ACUTE OTITIS EXTERNA (SWIMMER´S EAR)
WHAT IS SWIMMER’S EAR?
Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the ear canal, which is a slender channel about one-inch
long that leads from the outer ear to the eardrum. Symptoms of swimmer’s ear can include
pain, redness, and swelling of the ear canal and an itchy feeling in the ear. Pain when
tugging the earlobe, or when chewing food, is also a symptom. Some patients report
temporary hearing loss or their ears feeling “full.” Patients may experience symptoms
differently and at different levels of severity. It is important to note that swimmer’s ear is
different from a middle ear infection, which is common in young children.
WHAT CAUSES SWIMMER’S EAR? ARE THERE RISK FACTORS?
Swimmer’s ear is an infection that occurs when water remains trapped in the ear canal.
This moist environment is ideal for the growth of bacteria, and, in rare cases, fungus. Some
patients get swimmer’s ear from swimming, although it can happen from
bathing,showering, or even sweating. A lack of earwax due to aggressive cleaning with
cotton swabs or small objects can cause swimmer’s ear. Earwax limits the growth of
bacteria and is a natural barrier to moisture. Skin conditions such as eczema, and
chemicals from hairspray or dyes, can also prompt swimmer’s ear.
Stress, sweating, wearing hearing aids, and allergies have been linked to the condition as
well. People swimming in pools with poor water quality are more likely to get swimmer’s
ear. Those living in warmer climates do are also more likely to get swimmer’s ear because
they spend more time swimming or doing water sports. Some studies show that those with
Type A blood may be at increased risk for swimmer’s ear.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Seeking medical care quickly after the onset of symptoms will help avoid misdiagnosis or
delayed diagnosis and improve the success of treatment.Untreated swimmer’s ear can be
very painful and can temporarily affect hearing.
If left untreated, swimmer’s ear could spread beyond the ear canal, lead to a chronic
infection, or even permanently damage the ear.
HOW IS SWIMMER’S EAR DIAGNOSED?
Swimmer’s ear is diagnosed by a physical examination and medical history by a healthcare
provider. A doctor may examine the ears using a device called an otoscope (pronounced
oh/ toe/ scope), which allows for a good view inside the ear canal. By using this device, a
doctor can exclude any other causes of the patient’s symptoms, such as excessive ear wax
or infection in the middle ear. A doctor may also clean the inside of the ear canal and take a
sample of drainage from the ear, if present.
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