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What is Swimmer’s ear?

Swimmer’s ear, also called otitis externa, is the infection of the outer ear canal. This is the canal which carries sound into the ear. The infection is called ‘swimmer’s ear’ because it is common in people who spend too much time in the water.

What are its main signs and symptoms?

Mild symptoms of swimmer’s ear include ear pain and itching. The ear may turn red, and you may also find some fluid discharge from the ear.

As the infection progresses, the intensity of the pain, redness, and itching increases. Along with fluid, there will also be pus drainage from the ear. A patient may also complain of deranged hearing.

Once the infection has advanced considerably, all the above symptoms get worse. Additionally, the infection can also cause fever and swelling of the lymph nodes.

What are the main causes?

  • Swimmer’s ear is caused mainly by micro-organisms like bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
  • Moisture in the ear create a suitable environment for the bacteria to multiply. This is why people who spend too much time in water are more prone to this infection.
  • Continuous irritation of the ear due to ear buds, pin or even the finger increases the chances of infection.
  • Foreign objects like ear accessories and earphones can also carry infection.
  • A person having skin allergies is more prone to such infections.

How is it diagnosed and treated?

Based on your symptoms and medical history, the physician will begin by examining your ear.

  • A special instrument called the otoscope is used to look inside the canal for any redness, pus, or debris.
  • If the ear drum is damaged severely, further investigations may be needed to ascertain which organism is causing the infection.

Treatment 

  • The primary treatment is to eliminate the micro-organism through antimicrobials.
  • The ear is cleaned with a special mild acidic solution, and all the debris is removed.
  • Ear drops containing steroids help to reduce the inflammation in the ear canal.
  • The infection usually resolves in 10-12 days without any major complications.
  1. Medicines for Swimmer's Ear

References

  1. Hajioff D, MacKeith S. Otitis externa. BMJ Clin Evid. 2015 Jun 15;2015. pii: 0510. PMID: 26074134
  2. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: US National Library of Medicine; Swimmer's ear
  3. HealthLink BC [Internet] British Columbia; Swimmer's Ear (Otitis Externa)
  4. Center for Disease Control and Prevention [internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services; Ear Infections
  5. Better health channel. Department of Health and Human Services [internet]. State government of Victoria; Swimmer's ear
  6. healthdirect Australia. Swimmer's ear (otitis externa). Australian government: Department of Health

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