Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the outer part of the ear canal that can be caused by exposure to bacteria from swimming in polluted water, or by water becoming trapped in the ear, which causes the germs normally found there to multiply. People that swim in pools (rather than lakes or oceans) tend to get swimmer’s ear more often, since the chlorinated water can kill off a lot of the protective bacteria in the ear, allowing the infectious bacteria to grow.
What Is Swimmer’s Ear?
Otitis externa or swimmer’s ear is an inflammation of the ear canal. Its common name comes from the fact that it often occurs in people who swim frequently. However, any kind of dampness in the ear canal can lead to irritation and chafing, a condition similar to diaper rash. This inflammation of the ear canal can sometimes lead to an infection that can be very painful, which can cause muffled hearing (hearing loss).
Just know you don’t have to be a swimmer to get swimmer’s ear. It can be caused by excess moisture in the ear from things like showering or washing your hair.
What Are the Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear?
The symptoms of swimmer’s ear include:
- Temporarily muffled hearing (caused by blockage of the ear canal)
- Watery discharge from the ear
- Severe pain and tenderness in the ear, especially when moving your head or when gently pulling on the earlobe
- A foul-smelling, yellowish discharge from the ear
- Itching inside the ear
Some tips to Prevent Swimmer’s Ear
- Keep your ears clean and dry, especially after swimming – tip your head to the side until all of the water runs out of your ear, repeat on the other side
- Never insert a cotton swab or any other objects in your ears, which may damage the skin
- Keep hairspray or other irritating chemicals out of the ears by using ear plugs or cotton balls
- Avoid scratching or cutting your ears
- You may use a drop or two of vegetable oil or olive oil in your ears each day to help lubricate the ear canal and nourish dry skin
- Avoid vigorous cleaning of the ear. If you have excessive ear wax, get your ears professionally cleaned by a doctor or hearing health professional, and always maintain proper ear wax hygiene.
Call Your Doctor About Swimmer’s Ear If:
- You are experiencing any of the symptoms of an ear infection
- You are experiencing dizziness or ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- You have severe pain
- You are experiencing muffled hearing
- You are experiencing hearing loss
- You would like to get a hearing assessment
Although earplugs seem like a natural choice for prevention, many doctors don’t like them because they can trap bacteria in the ear canal and have the opposite effect. They suggest the steps above. A little ear care can keep Swimmer’s Ear something that you only heard about. See your nearest BC Hearing Services clinic to learn more.