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|What is Swimmer's Ear (Externa Otitis)?
Swimmer's ear is a painful infection of the skin lining the outer ear canal. There are non-effective bacteria that normally lodge on the surface of this skin. But once the skin breaks, bacteria can get inside and cause an infection called swimmer' ear (externa otitis). Swimmer's ear often attacks swimmers due to their increased exposure to water.
If your ears are wet for quite a while, the skin lining become softer and wrinkled. Any slight scratch like sticking a finger in the ear canal may open the way for an infection. When the skin is much softer due to wetness, bacteria can easily dig in and cause an infection. It is ironic then that very dry skin may crack, also causing a swimmer's ear.
Swimmer's ear is more common in people who swim in chlorinated water pools than in divers or in people who swim in the sea. This might be due to the effectiveness of chlorine in pool water to kill good bacteria that lodges in the ear. Chlorinated water is good, but it is not as effective in killing harmful bacteria that cause an infection, rather it softens your skin leaving it vulnerable to infection. Therefore, it is advisable that you reduce the amount of time you spend in pools, if needs be.
Most cases of otitis externa are reported to be in summer when swimming is more common. For unknown reasons, swimmer's ear is more prevalent in school children and adults than in infants.
|What causes Swimmer's Ear?
Swimmer's ear can be caused by many types of bacteria or fungi that invade the ear canal (that tubular opening that draws sound from external sources to the eardrum).
When bacteria or fungi invades broken skin in the ear canal, they penetrate and cause an infection.
In essence, any irritation of the skin lining of the ear canal can cause swimmer's ear. Here are certain events that may increase the risk of developing swimmer's ear:
- Too much moisture in the ear canal may cause the skin to break
- Too much dry skin can easily crack
- Improper ear cleaning with cotton applicators or other objects
Though the main cause of swimmer's ear is water trapped in the ear canal, especially by swimmers because of their increased exposure to water, but it can affect anybody due to skin irritation such as:
- Hair sprays that proceeds into the ear
- Inserting foreign objects into the ear canal
- Scratching the ear canal
|Symptoms of a Swimmer's Ear
The basic symptom of a swimmer's ear is pain in the ear region, which escalates when the auricle (visible part of the ear on the side of your head) is touched or moved.
Other signs and symptoms include:
- Swelling of the ear canal
- Ear blockage
- Intense pain when chewing
- Ear fullness and heaviness
- Decreased hearing
- Ear discharge
- Pain that extends to the neck, face, and a headache
|What do I do with my Swimmer's Ear?
In the early stages of the swimmer's ear, treatment options may include careful cleaning of the ear canal and ear drops that relegate bacterial growth. But if the ear is too painful, you need to visit your doctor because home treatment may lead to damage of the eardrum if done improperly.
If you had a perforated ear drum before, do not use any eardrops or antibiotics. Perforated eardrums need specialized equipment and expertise for effective cleansing and treatment options. Rather go straight to your otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) for check ups and treatment options.
Remember, the ear is one of the most sensitive human organs. So please visit your physician if you experience any problems with your ears.
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