Swimmer’s ear: prevention and treatment

Are your family members avid swimmers? Have you heard about swimmer’s ear and the ways to prevent it?

What is swimmer’s ear?

There’s nothing more enjoyable than a good swim to cool off the entire family on a hot summer day. Unfortunately, that little bit of joy can sometimes be accompanied by some mild inconveniences, and external otitis, also called “swimmer’s ear”, is one of them.

The ear is made up of three main parts: the outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear. As its name suggests, the outer ear consists of the exterior part and includes the auricle and the auditory canal. At the end of the auditory canal is the eardrum, which acts as a barrier between the outer ear and the middle ear.

External otitis is an inflammation of the external auditory canal, which can be caused by an infection. Symptoms may include earache (which intensifies when the earlobe is pulled), itchiness and the sensation that the ear is blocked. It is possible for pus to ooze from the auditory canal or for hearing to be affected.

This type of ear infection can occur after swimming when humidity forms and accumulates in the auditory canal, which sometimes creates favourable conditions for inflammation and the proliferation of bacteria. Swimmer’s ear is the most common form and the most well-known type of external otitis. Aside from swimming, the use of the following items can promote the development of external otitis:

  • cotton swabs
  • ear plugs
  • earphones
  • hearing device, and
  • products to remove cerumen (earwax)

Therefore, summer is a period conducive to external otitis, especially in children, who often have the opportunity to swim.

How to prevent swimmer’s ear

Here are a few tips on how to prevent external otitis:

  • Make sure you swim in clean water. Polluted water increases the risks of infection. If you swim in a pool, make sure that the water is analyzed daily.
  • Consider wearing ear plugs specially designed to protect the ears under water.
  • Avoid swimming with your head under water as much as possible.
  • Keep your ears dry. After swimming, remember to drain the water from your auditory canals by tilting your head to the side. If you use a towel to pat dry the outer ear, be sure to do so gently.
  • Do not use cotton swabs or any other pointed object to clean your ears. Simply clean the auricle (outer part) of the ear with water and some gentle soap. Remember that it is normal to have a little cerumen in the ear, as it has a protective role.

How to treat swimmer’s ear

Contrary to middle ear otitis, external otitis is not usually treated with an oral antibiotic. A topical product applied inside the ear is usually used. Some of these products are available over-the-counter, while others must be prescribed.

If you wish to use antibiotic, anti-inflammatory or other types of drops to treat external otitis, note the following:

  • Do not use eardrops without first speaking to your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Carefully follow their instructions for optimal treatment. Your pharmacist can explain how to apply the drops in the ears.
  • Do not insert a cotton ball in the ear after having applied the eardrops.
  • If you have a fever or other symptoms 48 hours after you started treatment, you should see a doctor.

If you feel pain in the ear, taking an oral analgesic or an anti-inflammatory drug could offer relief. Ask your pharmacist to help you choose the best-suited product for you, by taking into consideration your age, health, medical history, and the other medications you take. Ask your pharmacist to calculate the dosage to be given according to age and weight if the medication is intended for a child.

Speak to your pharmacist if you have questions concerning the prevention or treatment of external otitis.


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Swimmer’s ear: prevention and treatment

Are your family members avid swimmers? Have you heard about swimmer’s ear and the ways to prevent it?