Summertime means lots of fun at the pool, the lake, and the ocean. All that time in the water is great exercise and a lot of fun. But sometimes, after a day in the water, you come home and a few hours later start to feel discomfort in your ears. When it feels like a little of the water is stuck in your ear and can’t get out, some people call it swimmer’s ear. Often that water is little more than an annoyance, and you can get it out by jiggling your ear with your head to the side or blowing your ear with a hair dryer on low setting to help the water evaporate.
It is important to know that true swimmer’s ear can be more than just an annoyance. When water in the ear canal is allowed to stay in for a length of time, it could allow bacteria to grow, leading to developing true swimmer’s ear, or otitis externa. This is a bacterial infection that can cause symptoms such as itching, redness in the ear, drainage, mild discomfort or pain, and muffled hearing.
At Piedmont ENT, we often get calls during the summer from people worried they may have contracted swimmer’s ear. If you feel you have these symptoms, it is important to call your doctor. Swimmer’s ear is easy to treat, but if left untreated it can become more serious. Luckily, the treatment is relatively simple. Often the doctor will clean the ear gently with a cotton-tipped swab. Sometimes antibiotic ear drops are prescribed. If swelling is bad enough that the drops can’t reach the infected area, a wick is inserted to allow the medicine to reach the infected area. Symptoms usually subside over hours to days after treatment.
Swimmer’s ear usually affects children more than adults, because their narrow ear canals more easily trap water. To help prevent swimmer’s ear, you can try these tips:
- While swimming, wear a bathing cap or ear plugs.
- After swimming, tip your head to the side to let water drain out of the ears.
- Don’t worry about keeping completely clean ears. Ear wax is actually a protection against swimmer’s ear!
- If you don’t have ear tubes, perforation, or current drainage, you can use rubbing alcohol and white table vinegar as a prevention method after swimming. Mix a solution of equal parts white table vinegar and rubbing alcohol, and use a dropper to put a few drops in your ear.
Questions? Contact us, or call (336) 768-3361 today to schedule your appointment.