Swimmer’s Ear Infection (External Otitis) Symptoms, Pain Remedies, Treatment, and Prevention

ear drops

Swimmer’s ear in adults and children definition and facts

  • Swimmer’s ear, or external otitis, is typically a bacterial infection of the skin of the outer ear canal. In contrast to a middle ear infection, swimmer’s ear is an infection of the outer ear.
  • Swimmer’s ear can occur in both acute and chronic forms.
  • Excessive water exposure and water trapped in the ear is a risk factor for developing swimmer’s ear. Putting cotton swabs in the ear canal also may cause an external ear infection.
  • Early symptoms of an outer ear infection include
    • itchy ears,
    • a feeling of fullness,
    • swelling of the ear canal,
    • drainage, and
    • pain.
  • Home remedies to relieve ear pain, treat other signs and symptoms, and cure an outer ear infection include:
    • Keep the ears dry at all times. .
    • Use earplugs or a cotton ball with Vaseline on the outside to plug the ears when showering or swimming.
    • Don’t scratch the inside of the ear because this may make the condition worse.
    • Home made eardrops using mineral oil or hydrogen peroxide.
  • Frequently, outer ear infections are treated with antibiotic eardrops and avoiding water activities until the infection has been cured.
  • If the ear is very swollen, a wick may need to be inserted in the ear canal to allow penetration of the eardrops.
  • Follow your doctor’s instructions for use of any eardrops or medications
  • There are things that you can do to prevent swimmer’s ear or an outer ear infection.
    • Take care of your ears
    • Don’t scratch the inside of the ears
    • Keep the ears free of wax
    • Don’t put objects (even cotton balls or swabs) in the ear.
    • Don’t try to remove an object that is stuck the ear. Call your doctor.
    • Home made ear drops using rubbing alcohol and vinegar can be used after swimming to remove water from the ears and help prevent swimmer’s ear.

What is “swimmer’s ear” infection in children and adults?

External otitis or “swimmer’s ear” in children and adults is an infection of the skin covering the outer ear and ear canal. The ear infection can be short-term (acute) or chronic, which lasts for a long period.

Earache (Ear Pain) Symptoms

Ear pain can be caused by conditions within the ear, the ear canal, or it may affect visible portions of the ear. Infections of the ear include infections of the middle ear (otitis media), outer ear (swimmer’s ear or otitis externa). An earache also can be caused by pain and inflammation of the outer portion of the ear.

Some people may experience the following related symptoms and signs with earache:

  • Headache
  • Jaw pain
  • Nasal congestion

Read more about earache (ear pain) symptoms »

What are the signs and symptoms of swimmer’s ear in children and adults?

  • The first symptom of infection is the ear feeling full, and it may itch.
  • The ear canal swells, and fluid or puss may come from the ear.
  • Swimmer’s ear is very painful, especially with movement of the outside portion of the ear.
  • The ear canal can swell shut, and the side of the face can become swell.
  • A sense of fullness in the ear
  • The lymph nodes of the neck may enlarge, making it difficult or painful to open the jaw.
  • People with swimmer’s ear may experience some temporary hearing loss in the infected ear.

Other signs and symptoms of an outer ear infection in children include severe pain when the ear is moved, touched, or itched, and irritability. Outer ear infections in children also can be causes by middle ear infections (otitis media) or objects placed in the ear.

What causes acute swimmer’s ear infection in children an adults?

Acute external otitis (acute swimmer’s ear) is a common bacterial infection caused by Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, or Pseudomonas bacteria. Usually, bacterial ear infections in children and adults are transmitted through excessive water exposure from swimming, diving, surfing, kayaking, or other water sports. When water collects in the ear canal (frequently trapped by wax), the skin can become soggy, which is an incubator for bacteria to collect and grow. Cuts or abrasions in the lining of the ear canal (for example, from cotton swab injuries) also can expose the ear canal to a bacterial infection.

Why do ears itch?

Itchy ears can drive a person crazy. It can be the first sign of an infection, but if the problem is chronic, it is more likely caused by a chronic dermatitis of the ear canal. Seborrheic dermatitis and eczema can both affect the ear canal. There is really no cure for this problem, but it can be made tolerable with the use of steroid drops and creams. People with these problems are more prone to acute infections as well. Use of ear plugs, alcohol drops, and non-instrumentation of the ear is the best prevention for infection. Other treatments for allergies may also help itchy ears.

What are the symptoms, signs, and causes of chronic swimmer’s ear?

Chronic (long-term) swimmer’s ear is otitis externa that persists for longer than four weeks or that occurs more than four times a year. This condition can be caused by a

  • bacterial infection,
  • a skin condition (eczema or seborrhea),
  • fungal infection (Aspergillosis),
  • chronic irritation (such as from the use of hearing aids, insertion of cotton swabs, etc.),
  • allergy, chronic drainage from middle ear disease, tumors (rare), or
  • it may simply follow from a nervous habit of frequently scratching the ear.

In some people, more than one factor may be involved. For example, a person with eczema may subsequently develop black ear drainage. This would suggest of an accompanying fungal infection.

The standard treatments and preventative measures, as noted in the next sections, are often all that is needed to treat even a case of chronic otitis externa. However, in people with diabetes or those with suppressed immune systems, chronic swimmer’s ear can become a serious disease (malignant external otitis). Malignant external otitis is a misnomer because it is not a tumor or a cancer, but rather an aggressive bacterial (typically Pseudomonas) infection of the base of the skull.

Can objects, bugs, or insects in the ear cause outer ear infections?

Young children often will put foreign objects their ear by accident or while scratching or trying to clean their ear. Often, children who put objects in their ear also have swimmer’s ear (external ear infection). Do not try to remove objects stuck in the ear because it can be difficult. Call your pediatrician to have the object safely removed. Usually this can be done in the office, but sometimes, general anesthesia may be necessary to remove the lodged object if it is stuck deeply in the ear or if the child or adult is uncooperative.

Insects or bugs can be trapped in the ear, for example, small gnats can be caught and stuck in the earwax. Often, bugs and insects can washed out with warm water. Larger insects or bugs may not be able to turn around in the narrow canal. If the insect or bug is still alive, first kill it by filling the ear with mineral oil. This will suffocate the insect, and then see your doctor to have it removed.

Content retrieved from: https://www.medicinenet.com/otitis_externa/article.htm.

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