Swimmer’s Ear (“external Otitis”)

The condition known as “Swimmer’s Ear” refers to any type of infection of the outer ear canal, and there are generally two types of external otitis - acute or infectious external otitis and chronic external otitis.

Acute external otitis is often associated with swimming in fresh waters, so it is also known as “swimmer’s ear.” It is an infection caused by multiple types of bacteria and fungi and can occur in children or adults. Acute external otitis may spread to the cartilage and bone around the ear canal if left untreated.

Chronic external otitis is caused by irritation of the skin of the outer ear canal and is typically a problem of the skin, so it is often associated with other skin disorders such as eczema, dermatitis, or psoriasis outside the ear. The physicians at Metairie Sinus & Snoring may also refer you to a Dermatologist if you have persistent problems.

Acute external otitis usually causes ear pain when the earlobe or outside part of the ear is touched. It may also cause itching in the ear canal as that area recovers from the infection. The ear may release a greenish-yellow discharge or puss, and hearing may also be affected, especially as the ear canal swells.

Chronic external otitis causes itchiness or irritated ears that occur over a long time, which may become painful and may release puss if it also becomes infected.

There are three major causes of Acute External otitis:

  1. Fresh water swimming, especially in polluted lakes, rivers, or ponds because the water may introduce bacteria or change the acidity of the outer ear canal, making it easier for bacteria to grow. Occasionally, chlorinated pool water can cause external otitis by drying out the skin of the ear canal, which makes it easier for bacteria to grow.
  2. Scratching the ear canal by cotton-tipped swabs or other objects, which cause small tears in the canal that can allow bacteria to cause an infection.
  3. Diabetics whose sugars are not under control have an increased risk of infection anywhere including the ear canal.
  4. Allergies may also contribute to external otitis, though this is not typical.
  1. Always attempt to get rid of water in your ear after swimming by pulling your ear in different directions or even using a hair dryer.
  2. Mom was right; do not use cotton-tipped swabs (Q-tips™) or any other object in your ear.
  3. Use earplugs when swimming, especially in deep or fresh water.
  4. Those who experience frequent infections can create a treatment mixture of 1/3 sterile water, 1/3 isopropyl alcohol, and 1/3 white vinegar, that can be kept in the refrigerator and applied with a dropper to both ears after showering or swimming. (Speak to a Metairie Snoring & Sinus physician before using this method)
  5. Diabetics should ensure sugar levels are well controlled.

External otitis is typically cured within 7-10 days using one of the following methods, depending on the severity of the infection:

  1. In-office ear canal cleaning and suction.
  2. Prescription eardrops that may contain antibiotics to fight the bacteria infection, steroids to control the inflammation, or a combination of the two.
  3. A small sponge wick in the ear canal, which allows the eardrops to reach your entire canal.
  4. Prescription antibiotics are rarely required for routine external otitis, but if your symptoms persist or if the infection has spread outside the ear canal, they may be prescribed.
  5. If your pain is severe, you may be prescribed a mild painkiller for 2-3 days as your infection improves.

Chronic external otitis usually resolves within 7-10 days and the inflammation can be treated with a steroid lotion or cream applied with a cotton-tipped applicator at night.

General ENT

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