Excessive water exposure is often the leading cause of swimmer’s ear. Swimmer’s ear (otitis externa) is an inflammation or infection of the ear canal, the passage that leads from the outer ear to the eardrum. This condition is called swimmer’s ear because it commonly occurs in people who have been swimming. But other people can get it too. The water can break down the skin lining the ear canal, allowing it to become infected. This condition can be caused by a bacterial infection, eczema. You can contract swimmer’s ear from swimming in polluted water or getting water in your ear while swimming, but you can also develop the condition in many other ways. It can occur after showering, scratching the ear while cleaning it, or putting objects in the ear, such as ear plugs or hearing aids that are contaminated with bacteria. Symptoms of having swimmer’s ear may include:
- The first symptom is often itching in the ear canal
- A feeling of fullness in the ear
- A yellowish or brownish discharge from the ear
- Your ear canal may be swollen
Swimmer’s ear and a regular ear infection are painful. Common childhood middle ear infections don’t cause pain in the outer ear like cases of swimmer’s ear. If someone has swimmer’s ear, it will hurt when he/she wiggles the ear or puts a finger in it. A doctor can usually tell whether you have swimmer’s ear by looking into your ear and asking questions about your symptoms.
Some home treatment can help swimmer’s ear. But it is important to see a doctor first.The most common treatment consists of antibiotic ear drops with or without an oral antibiotic. Pain-relieving medications such as acetaminophen or antihistamines to decrease itching may also be recommended along with antibiotics. If the ear is swollen, your doctor may prescribe antibiotic ear drops that may contain steroids. If the ear canal is completely blocked due to swelling or inflammation, your doctor may insert a wick made of cotton or gauze to promote drainage.
As an herbal therapy, garlic oil can be used as an antibiotic wash to rinse out your ears. It is also possible to make garlic oil at home. Swimmer’s ear can usually be treated effectively at home with natural remedies. If you experience severe pain or your swimmer’s ear isn’t responding to home treatments, you should schedule an appointment to visit your doctor. An antibiotic or anti-fungal ear drops may be needed.
The ear should be kept dry. While showering or swimming use an ear plug that is designed to keep water out. Mineral oil ear drops can be used to protect the ear from water when a dry crusty skin condition exists. You may also want to use shower caps while bathing. If you wear a hearing aid, make a point of leaving it out a few times a day to give your ears a chance to dry out.