Otitis externa, commonly known as swimmer’s ear, is a painful infection of the ear canal. The condition is caused when excess moisture finds its way inside the canal, irritating the skin and giving bacteria an easy entry point.

Swimmer’s ear is frequently talked about during the summer months, when recreational swimming at the pool, the lake, and the ocean is in full swing. That being said, swimming isn’t an absolute prerequisite for swimmer’s ear. In fact, the condition may even occur more frequently in non-swimmers, such as those who spend a great deal of time exposed to the elements (such as the wind and rain) and individuals with eczema.

Still, if some fun in the sun and the pool are in your future, optimal ear care and protection should be on your summer vacation itinerary. Here are just 3 ways to recognize, treat, and prevent swimmer’s ear this season.

  1. Know the signs.
    • Pain in the ear canal is the number one telltale sign. It may worsen when pressure is placed on the outer ear. (Pain when chewing also frequently accompanies swimmer’s ear.)
    • Itching in the inner ear may sometimes precede an infection.
    • Swelling of the ear canal can cause a feeling of fullness and the outer ear may appear red or inflamed.
    • Clear discharge may be present that gradually turns cloudy.
  2. Take precautions.
  • OTC ear drops may help swimmers who regularly develop the infection. However, they should never be used in individuals who have holes in the eardrum or ear tubes.
  • Objects, including cotton swabs, should never be placed into the ears for cleaning purposes, as they can cause small scratches and injuries that lead to bacterial infection.
  • After swimming, the inner ear can be dried using a hair dryer on the lowest, coldest setting at a safe distance. Keep the dryer moving, do not hold it steady.
  • Use ear plugs when you are bathing and/or swimming.
  1. Take action.
    • If you believe you or your child may have swimmer’s ear, consult your doctor. Infections typically respond well to antibiotics, which your physician will prescribe following an exam.
    • Homemade solutions of half rubbing alcohol and half vinegar have also been shown to be effective. The alcohol mixes with the moisture present in the ear before evaporating and taking water with it. Meanwhile, the vinegar’s acidity prevents bacteria from growing.
    • OTC pain medications, such as Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen, can help to manage ear pain.
    • Seek medical attention immediately if a child experiences any pain in the ear, reduced hearing, or you notice an unusual discharge from the ear.

With medical attention and proper treatment, swimmer’s ear tends to resolve in 7-10 days. If you experience ear pain or discomfort after making a splash this summer, the physicians at Quality First Urgent Care can help you determine the cause. Our Clarksville and Burtonsville clinics are open daily for all urgent care needs.