It’s that time of year. You’ve just enjoyed a beautiful afternoon at the beach or pool only to have your child miserable the next day with pressure and pain from water in the ears. Unfortunately, many of us are familiar with that kind of discomfort from an earache. Water can lodge in the ear canal and sometimes result in an infection.
This can also happen in the bath and the shower. Yes, you know this common, yet painful condition as swimmer’s ear. If you or one of your little ones are unlucky to get an infection such as this, you WILL need an antibiotic. Doctors don’t like giving out antibiotics, but with swimmer’s ear you MUST take one.
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that the cause of swimmer’s ear is moisture. Water from the pool or the ocean (or any other water source) gets caught in the ear. Bacteria within the entrapped water festers, resulting in infection. Usually swimmer’s ear is caused by the common bacteria found in water and soil, and less often, by a fungus or a particular virus.
Severity of swimmer’s ear cases range from mild to severe. Generally,symptoms include itching, swelling of the ear, localized redness, and discharge from the ear canal. More acute instances also include fever, ear pain, temporary hearing loss, and the swelling of lymph nodes. If left untreated, a severe case of swimmer’s ear can result in a long term infection, hearing loss, and the possibility of a ruptured eardrum.
The Two P’s: prevention and precaution
Believe it or not, there are risk factors to consider. Since bacteria in the trapped moisture is what actually causes swimmer’s ear, it is worth noting certain water is at a higher risk of contamination with bacteria. This includes public and commercial pools, poorly maintained home swimming pools, stagnant bodies of water, and lakes. We have also seen instances this summer, as we have discussed, with contaminated beaches up and down the Jersey Shore. High levels of bacteria in the ocean and bay is known to happen after heavy rains due to polluted runoff.
Additionally, the conditions surrounding the patient may cause elevated risk. Contributing factors of this nature include a narrow ear canal (as in the case of children), use of constant devices such as hearing aids or headphones, and using a cotton swab to aggressively clean out the ear canal on a routine basis. Using these devices pose a risk of scratching the inside of the ear, leaving areas prone to becoming hospitable for bacteria.
Our own Dr. Janeen Miraglia has a trick to prevent swimmer’s ear as you may have seen in our “Your Daily Dose – Swimmer’s Ear” segment on our Family First Urgent Care YouTube channel. Though it may seem odd, Dr. Janeen swears by it… try a blow dryer on a cool setting, and literally dry out the ears! Dr. Janeen says it works on her own kids like a charm, so give it a shot on your little ones after swimming or exposure to excessive moisture.
If using the blow dryer isn’t your solution of choice, use an over the counter alcohol based ear drop or a snug pair of ear plugs when swimming. There is no lack of choice when it comes to either option at your local pharmacy or supermarket.
Word to the wise
Rest assured, the body is not naturally defenseless when it comes to getting swimmer’s ear. The human ear canal is naturally curved to drain fluid, and the wax produced by ear glands also serves as a protective barrier.
However, sometimes our bodies need some help. It is reassuring to know that swimmer’s ear is easily treatable. If pain or discomfort persists, come in to get checked out in either our Toms River or Oakhurst offices. If you have an infection, we’ll prescribe an antibiotic to get you on the mend. Remember – at Family First, you’re family.