Summertime here in sunny Florida inevitably means lots of time spent in the pool, the river or the ocean. Swimming is a favorite pastime, offering a cool respite from the sweltering sun. But that relief may be short-lived if you catch a case of swimmer’s ear, say specialist at St. Augustine Ear, Nose and Throat.
Swimmer’s ear is an infection in the outer ear canal, which runs from your eardrum to the outside of your head. The most common cause is water that remains in your ear after a swim, creating a moist environment that’s prime real estate for bacterial growth. However, it also can be caused by damage to the thin layer of skin lining your ear canal, often caused by placing objects like cotton swabs, hairpins or finger tips in your ear; and by sensitivity or allergic reactions to hair product or jewelry.
Swimmer’s ear infections can range from mild cases that can be treated with drops to severe cases that can have long-term effects. Symptoms include:
- Itching in the ear canal
- Slight redness inside the ear
- Mild discomfort that’s intensified by pulling on your outer ear or pushing on the tragus (that small, pointed prominence situated in front of the ear)
- Some drainage of clear, odorless fluid
- More intense itching
- Increasing pain
- More extensive redness in the ear
- Excessive fluid drainage
- Pus discharge
- A sensation of fullness inside your ear and partial blockage of the ear canal by swelling, fluid and debris
- Decreased or muffled hearing
- Intense pain that radiates to the face, neck or side of the head
- Complete blockage of the ear canal
- Redness or swelling of the outer ear
- Swelling in the lymph nodes in the neck
If gone untreated, swimmer’s ear can lead to complications including temporary hearing loss, bone and cartilage damage, and long-term or deep tissue infection, and potentially fatal infections that can spread to other parts of the body including the brain or nervous system. Prevent swimmer’s ear by keeping your ears dry; draining them by tipping your head to the side after swimming; swimming in well-maintained swimming pools rather than ponds, lakes or ocean spots that may have high bacterial counts; avoiding putting fingers or foreign objects in your ear; and protecting your ears from irritants like hairsprays and hair dyes.
If you or your children experience symptoms of swimmer’s ear, call 904-461-6060 to schedule a consultation at St. Augustine Ear, Nose & Throat’s St. Augustine or Ponte Vedra locations.