Swimmer’s Ear (Otitis Externa) : Swimming Injuries

Swimmer’s ear is a common swimming injury, particularly among children and teenagers. It affects males and females equally, and is connected with swimming because it is caused as a result of excess moisture in the outer ear, which allows bacteria, and less often fungi, to breed in the ear.

The Ear Canal Explained

The ear canal is a cylindrical structure that extends from the outer portion of the ear through to the ear drum. Its primary function is to protect the ear from infection and the entrance of foreign objects. This is largely accomplished by its length, which is usually 2.5cm. In addition, the outer portion of the canal produces wax, which helps to trap debris and creates an acidic environment harmful to bacteria, and it is also hair-lined which adds an extra barrier against debris.

What Causes Swimmer’s Ear?

Swimmer’s ear can be caused by any break in the skin lining the ear canal, because it allows bacteria or fungi to invade the ear. The barrier can be broken in several ways, but the condition is called ‘swimmer’s ear’ because the most common is excessive moisture. This alters the acidic environment of the ear canal and allows bacteria and fungi to survive and breed.

What are the Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear?

The most common symptom is pain in one ear which may occur gradually. Other symptoms include itching, redness, drainage of fluids, hearing impairment and ringing or dizziness.

How can you Prevent Swimmer’s Ear?

Using earplugs while swimming will help keep the water out of the ear. The best earplugs are often balls of soft wax which can be purchased from most pharmacies. Eardrops made of vinegar and rubbing alcohol may also help prevention when applied in each ear canal after swimming.

How do you Treat Swimmer’s Ear?

Swimmer’s ear is generally not an emergency, but is likely to require medical attention as over-the-counter medicines may not be strong enough to treat the infection. Treatments you can use at home include aspirin or ibuprofen to ease the pain, and short periods exposing the ear to heat via a heat pad. You should avoid any further trauma to the ear and not attempt to remove any visible debris.

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