Summertime and Swimmer’s Ear

Summertime and Swimmer’s EarSunscreen, hat, sunglasses and swim plugs? Are you planning to beat the heat this summer in the water? If you are, you should protect your ears from an infection known as swimmer’s ear.

In the summer, doctors typically see a rise in swimmer’s ear cases when water activities such as swimming become more popular. This condition is caused by a growth of bacteria in the ear canal and often occurs when water remains in the ear and creates a moist environment for bacteria to grow. It is an infection of the skin of the ear canal as opposed to otitis media (the typical infection that small children tend to get) which is an infection of the middle ear (the space behind the eardrum).

When patients have a mild case of swimmer’s ear, the ear canal may be itchy, red, mildly uncomfortable and draining fluid. If left untreated, symptoms can worsen with increasing pain, itching, fluid drainage, muffled hearing and a fever. To prevent the infection from getting worse, you should see an ear, nose and throat doctor to have it treated.

After examining the ear and eardrum, your doctor will clean the ear and prescribe eardrops that may include an acidic solution, steroid, antibiotic or antifungal medication. Your doctor may also use a wick made of cotton or gauze to keep the ear canal open to promote drainage and help draw the medication into the ear canal.

Until swimmer’s ear is cleared up, you should avoid activities where water may get stuck in the ear such as swimming or scuba diving, flying, using earplugs or earbuds. You should also make sure water does not enter your ear while bathing.

If you know you are susceptible to swimmer’s ear then you can use a few drops of a mixture of rubbing alcohol (3 parts) and white vinegar (1 part) in both ears after swimming. Do not use this if you have tubes in your ears or a perforation of the eardrum.

Swim plugs can help prevent swimmer’s ear while still allowing you to enjoy the water. Your audiologist can help you get custom swim plugs fitted to the shape of your ear for added comfort and optimal protection. Custom plugs create a tighter seal than universal plugs to keep water from entering the ear canal.

When you head to the water this summer, protect your ears and pack your swim plugs.