How Can You Tell The Difference Between An Ear Infection And Swimmer’s Ear
Swimmer’s ear is actually a â_type_â of ear infection.
“The ear is divided into three compartments,” Dr. Kari says, “The outer ear, which is ear canal the middle ear, which is the space behind the ear drum and the inner ear, which is responsible for hearing, balance and the conversion of mechanical signals into electrical signals that go to the brain.”
You can get an infection in any of the three parts. Swimmer’s ear, aka otitis externa, describes an infection of the outer ear canal.
“Middle ear infections are what we refer to when little kids have ear infections,” Dr. Kari says. “It causes pain, fever, hearing loss and drainage if the ear drum is ruptured.”
Also good to know: There are two different types of swimmer’s ear. Usually the infection is bacterial, but sometimes it can be fungal. While there are topical over-the-counter antifungals that you can use, it’s pretty much impossible to distinguish a bacterial from a fungal infection because they present the same.
“Even experienced doctors can’t always tell without examining the ear with a microscope,” Dr. Kari says.
Why Is Swimmer’s Ear So Painful?
How Can Swimmers Ear Be Prevented
Dry your ears with a towel after swimming or bathing. You can also tilt your head to each side to help water drain, use a hairdryer on the lowest setting, or instill a few drops of a 1 part white vinegar, 1 part rubbing alcohol solution. Do not use cotton swabs or other foreign objects inside your ear canal.
Swimmers ear is unpleasant and can certainly take the fun out of your waterand landactivities. By seeking prompt medical treatment, using the treatment prescribed by your doctor, and keeping your ears nice and dry, you can help make swimmers ear go away and stay away.
What Is Swimmer’s Ear
Otitis externa is an infection of the ear canal caused by bacteria or fungi. It often is called swimmer’s ear because it is associated with frequent swimming. Prolonged exposure to water, which may contain certain bacteria, makes the skin of the ear canal swollen and more likely to get infected. Summer humidity also changes the skin of the ear canal, increasing the possibility of infection.
While swimmer’s ear is most common in the summer, it can happen any time of the year. People with skin conditions such as eczema and seborrhea may be more prone to infections. Others who are more likely to develop swimmer’s ear include people who:
- Suffer trauma to the ear canal, usually when trying to clean the ear with a cotton swab or other instrument
- Have small ear canals that do not drain well enough on their own
- Have drainage of pus from chronic middle ear infections with perforation of the eardrum
- Frequently use earplugs or hairspray
- Frequently get water in their ears from showers, baths or shampoos
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What Causes Swimmers Ear
The primary cause of Swimmerâs ear is water entering and remaining in the ear canal. This can happen after swimming, bathing, or even spending time in warm, humid places.
Ears have natural defenses to protect against injury and infection. First, they secrete cerumen, commonly known as earwax. Cerumen forms a water-repellent barrier inside the ear and is slightly acidic , which inhibits bacterial and fungal growth. Second, ears have a piece of cartilage called the tragus that partially covers the canal opening and helps prevent foreign bodies from entering. In Swimmerâs ear, these defenses get overwhelmed.
A common contributing factor is putting objects in the ear. Cotton swabs, fingers, pens, keys, bobby pins and earbuds can all injure the skin inside the ear canal and lead to infection. Other risk factors include swimming in unclean or polluted water, having a dry ear canal, extra ear wax, heavy perspiration, having an unusually narrow or hairy ear canal, or having eczema, psoriasis, or other skin conditions.
Rather than fungus or viruses, Swimmerâs ear is typically a bacterial infection. The most common bacteria in Swimmerâs ear infections is pseudomonas aeruginosa.
Other Types Of External Otitis
Acute localized external otitis occurs when a hair follicle in the ear becomes infected. A painful, pus-filled bump, called a furuncle, may form in the ear canal. This infection is a type of furunculosis.
Chronic external otitis can result from infection, allergies, or a skin condition, such as eczema. To warrant the diagnosis, the symptoms must persist for at least 3 months, and they can last for years.
The ear has several ways of protecting itself from infection.
Cerumen, or earwax, is produced by glands in the ear canal, and it performs several functions.
For example, earwax:
- forms a thin, waterproof film on the skin of the ear canal
- contains acids and antibacterial properties, which combat bacteria
- collects debris, dead skin, and dirt and transports them out of the ear, where they appear as a waxy clump at the opening of the ear canal
The shape of the ear canal is also important. It slopes downward from the middle to the outer ear, so that liquid can drain.
External otitis can develop when the ear canals defenses cannot cope with an infection or an allergic reaction.
The following factors increase the likelihood of contracting swimmers ear:
- swimming, especially in water with high levels of bacteria
- cleaning, prodding, scratching, or scraping the ear canal with a cotton swab
- wearing a swim cap, using a hearing aid, or having a lot of earwax, which can trap water inside the ear
- having a skin condition, such as eczema, acne, or psoriasis
- having a small ear canal
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What Conditions Cause Swimmer’s Ear
Conditions that can lead to swimmer’s ear include:
- Water that gets trapped in the ear canal, for example from swimming or showering often
- Loss of ear wax a natural protectant due to too much water entering the ear canal or removing too much wax when cleaning ears
- Injury to ear caused by putting objects into the ear, such as fingers, pen/pencils, paper clips, hair clips
- Swimming in polluted water
- Other skin conditions that affect the ear canal, such as eczema or psoriasis
How Is Swimmers Ear Diagnosed
Swimmers ear can usually be diagnosed by a primary care provider, but he or she may refer you to an otolaryngologistan ear, nose, and throat doctor also called an ENT.
At the visit, the doctor will ask you what your symptoms are and how long you have been experiencing them. He or she will look at the redness and swelling in your ear and can often diagnose swimmers ear based on a visual inspection.
If you are having recurring swimmers ear or your physician is unsure of what is causing the infection, he or she may take a swab of the discharge and send it for testing.
If any debris is present in your ear, your healthcare provider will remove it and clean your ear.
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How Is Swimmer’s Ear Diagnosed
Your healthcare provider will ask about your past health and any symptoms you have now. He or she will give you a physical exam. Your provider will look into both of your ears.
Your provider may check your ears using a lighted tool . This will help to see if you also have an infection in your middle ear. Some people may have both types of infections.
If you have pus draining from your ear, your provider may take a sample of the pus for testing. This is called an ear drainage culture. A cotton swab is placed gently in your ear canal to get a sample. The sample is sent to a lab to find out what is causing the ear infection.
What Types Of Water Activities Or Swimming Make You More Prone To Getting Swimmers Ear
Swimming infreshwater lakes: This is often due to the presence of a bacteria called P. aeruginosa that can be present in freshwater lakes.
Swimming in unclean pools: Improperly treated pools can allow bacteria to develop, leading to increased risk for infection.
Water sports: Anything that involves more time spent in the water like playing a water sport such as water polo or competitive swimming is more likely to lead to swimmers ear.
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What Are The Complications Of Swimmer’s Ear
If left untreated, swimmer’s ear may cause other problems such as:
- Hearing loss from a swollen and inflamed ear canal. Hearing usually returns to normal when the infection clears up.
- Ear infections that keep coming back
- Bone and cartilage damage
- Infection spreading to nearby tissue, the skull, brain, or the nerves that start directly in the brain
Look For Visible Symptoms
If your child is experiencing ear pain, these signals are especially helpful: With swimmer’s ear, the outer ear may appear red and swollen and have a rash-like appearance. You may see your child frequently scratch at his ear or complain of an itchy ear. Also watch for a foul-smelling drainagecoming from the ear bothering them. Symptoms to watch for with a middle ear infection include fever, pulling or tugging on the ear, decreased appetite, diarrhea or vomiting.
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Who Is At Risk For Swimmer’s Ear
You are at greater risk for swimmer’s ear if you:
- Have contact with germs in hot tubs or unclean pool water
- Have a cut in the skin of your ear canal
- Hurt your ear canal by putting cotton swabs, fingers, or other objects inside your ears
- Use head phones, hearing aids, or swimming caps
- Have a skin condition such as eczema
Use A Vinegar And Alcohol Wash
This should not be used to treat acute swimmers ear infections, but vinegar can be mixed with rubbing alcohol and used as drops to safely dry out the ear canal and inhibit bacterial and fungal growth. Mix 1 part white vinegar with 1 part rubbing alcohol, then apply 6 to 8 drops in the ear using an eye dropper. Tilt your head sideways or lie down when applying so that the drops run down into the ear. Then tilt your head to the other side to allow the drops to run back out on their own. The alcohol works to dry out the ears, while the vinegar changes the pH inside the ear to prohibit the growth of bacteria and fungi. An alternative solution is 1 part white vinegar to 3 parts rubbing alcohol.
Similar effects can be produced by a boric acid and alcohol solution. To mix this solution, slowly add boric acid to a bottle of alcohol. When the acid starts to accumulate at the bottom the alcohol is saturated.
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How Swimmer’s Ear Is Treated
Swimmer’s ear, also called otitis externa by medical professionals, is a fairly common infection that needs to be treated by a healthcare provider. Swimmer’s ear is caused by contaminated water entering the ear. It is an infection of the outer ear, unlike otitis media , the ear infections that are so common in children.
Swimmer’s ear is generally caused by bacteria or fungus, and treatment often depends on the severity of the infection but frequently involves the administration of special ear drops.
As the name implies swimmer’s ear is common among swimmers but can be caused by any activity that causes water to become trapped in the outer ear canal. Such activities may include bathing or soaking in a hot tub.
Avoid Antibiotics In Pill Form For ‘swimmer’s Ear’
Instead, use antibacterial or antibiotic eardrops, experts advise
MONDAY, Feb. 3, 2014 — Anyone who’s ever contracted “swimmer’s ear” knows how painful the infection can be.
The panel at the American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery Foundation recommends that patients be treated with antibiotic eardrops, but only if necessary.
Swimmer’s ear “may cause intense pain. Eardrops offer prompt relief, but about one-third of cases are treated with oral antibiotics, which are ineffective and promote resistant bacteria,” Dr. Richard Rosenfeld, who helped draft the new advisory, said in a statement provided by the academy.
“The updated guideline expands upon prior guidance with new clinical trials, new systematic reviews and consumer participation, intended to optimize the diagnosis and treatment of this common disorder,” Rosenfeld said.
Swimmer’s ear, formally known as “acute otitis externa,” is an infection of the outer ear that generally occurs when water becomes trapped in the ear canal and bacteria multiply, the experts explain. The condition is very common and affects about one in every 123 Americans each year. Besides swimming, people can contract swimmer’s ear through trauma to the ear, stress, sweat and allergies.
Two experts welcomed the new guidelines.
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What About Garlic Ear Drops
“These have been reported to have antimicrobial properties,” Dr. Kari says. A December 2019 study in the â_Turkish Archives of Otorhinolaryngology_â found that garlic derivatives effectively inhibited microorganisms commonly responsible for swimmer’s ear.
“There is probably no harm in trying it,” Dr. Kari says, “But I can’t say whether they are actually effective in resolving an infection.”
Bottom line: Garlic ear drops are no substitute for a trip to the doctor.
What Is An Ear Infection
There are different types of ear infections. Middle ear infection is an infection in the middle ear.
Another condition that affects the middle ear is called otitis media with effusion. This condition occurs when fluid builds up in the middle ear without causing an infection. Otitis media with effusion does not cause fever, ear pain, or pus build-up in the middle ear.
Swimmers ear is an infection in the outer ear canal. Swimmers Ear is different from a middle ear infection. For more information, visit Swimmers Ear .
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How Do Ear Infection Antibiotics Work
Ear infections are no fun for anyone.
Since most ear infections are caused by bacteria, its typically best to treat individual cases with antibiotics.
But antibiotic treatment isnt appropriate for every ear infection. There are a variety of factors to consider, including:
Recurring ear infections may also require a different approach.
If youre considering ear infection antibiotics for yourself or a loved one, learn more about how these medications work and how they can be both helpful and possibly harmful.
Ear infections are most prevalent in young children. Theyre often the byproducts of upper respiratory infections.
You or your child might experience other symptoms before the ear infection, including:
If an upper respiratory infection is caused by bacteria, then its possible to have an ear infection at the same time.
An ear infection occurs when bacteria gets trapped in your middle ear. Bacteria known as Hemophilus influenza and Streptococcus pneumoniae are the most common bacterial culprits.
But an ear infection may still occur if you have a viral respiratory illness. As you recover, its possible for bacteria to travel to your middle ear and become trapped, leading to a secondary infection in your ears.
What Are The Best Home Remedies For Swimmers Ear
Over-the-counter ear drops are not generally strong enough to cure a swimmers ear infection. For an acute bacterial or fungal infection, its best to see your doctor for a prescription.
Its very important to see your healthcare professional before using ear drops or ear washes. Ear drops can be dangerous for people who have a perforated eardrum or have ever had a perforated eardrum. Ask your doctor to check that your eardrum is intact and in fit condition to use ear drops of any kind.
There are some things you can do at home to help prevent a mild case of swimmers ear from progressing or to prevent it from happening at all.
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Swimmers Ear Is A Common Infection But It Can Be Severe If Left Untreated
Swimmers ear is an infectious condition that affects the canal of the ear. The bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa is primarily responsible for the majority of cases. Acute infections usually require antibiotics to treat within seven to ten days, but the first few days may be painful. If left untreated, swimmers ear symptoms can include fever, discharge, fluid leakage, swollen lymph nodes, and discharge. In some cases, the ear can swell and become too close to the skin, causing muffled hearing. Any of these symptoms should be treated as soon as possible by a doctor. An antibiotic treatment is usually not required if the infection is treated promptly with prescription ear drops.
Can You Get Swimmers Ear From Taking A Shower Or A Bath
Its rare for showering or taking a bath to lead to swimmers ear in most people. However, since anything that creates moisture in the ear canal can cause swimmers ear, it is possible to get swimmers ear from taking a shower or a bath, for people who are predisposed to it.
Anything that irritates the lining of your outer ear can make you more prone to swimmers ear. For example, ear wax serves as a protective barrier to prevent swimmers ear. If you often aggressively remove ear wax, or have eczema that irritates the skin on your outer ear canal, you may be more prone to developing swimmers ear from regular daily activities.
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