We often don’t think twice before jumping into a pool or taking a trip to a water park for some summer fun, but sometimes a day at the pool can lead to a painful condition called swimmer’s ear. Luckily, we’ve got easy tips for identifying and avoiding swimmer’s ear this summer.
What is swimmer’s ear?
Swimmer’s ear is an infection, inflammation or irritation of the outer ear and ear canal. It’s especially common in kids, including teens and young adults. Unlike a common childhood middle ear infection, swimmer’s ear causes pain when you tug the ear. If your ear or your child’s ear is swollen, red, itchy, producing pus or painful when wiggled, see a doctor as soon as possible. If you or you child has swimmer’s ear, your doctor may treat it with antibiotic eardrops.
What causes swimmer’s ear?
Swimmer’s ear is caused by leftover water in the ear, which provides an ideal environment for germs. If the water stays in the ear for an extended period of time, the germs infect the ear’s skin, causing swimmer’s ear. Swimmer’s ear can’t be passed from person to person– it’s only caused by water and germs lingering in the ear.
How do you prevent swimmer’s ear?
If you can, avoid getting your ears wet--wear a bathing cap or earplugs when swimming. If your ears do end up with water in them, dry them out thoroughly with a towel. Shake your head to the side, pulling at the ear to dislodge any water. If necessary, blow dry your ears with a hairdryer, but be sure the dryer is on the lowest heat and speed and carefully hold the dryer several inches away from your ear.
Steven Wright, MD, ENT doctor at St. Joseph Health Central Texas ENT says, “Never stick objects, including cotton swabs, into your ear for any reason, even to dry your ear. This can potentially damage your eardrum.” If you feel your ear still needs drying or cleaning, see a doctor.
When swimming, ask the pool or hot tub operator about disinfectant and pH levels. These should be checked twice daily to be positive the water is pure. You can order your own pool test strips to test the chlorine and bromine levels in your pool. Clean water is less likely to infect your ear with germs if water remains in your ear.
How do you treat swimmer’s ear?
Most cases of swimmer’s ear can be easily treated with antibiotic drops. Make an appointment with a St. Joseph Health physician if you or your child experiences the symptoms of swimmer’s ear. Find the perfect doctor for your needs with our Physician Finder.