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Don't Let Swimmer's Ear Sink your Summer

Child smiling and giving two thumbs up while swimming underwater.If you’ve ever experienced an ear infection, you know how uncomfortable and painful it can be. Swimmer’s ear is a common infection often occurring after water gets trapped in the ear canal. With swimming season in full gear, learn how to spot this condition before it sinks your summer.

“Swimmer’s ear happens when water gets in the ear canal, which is the tube that sound normally goes through to allow one to hear”, explained Dr. Claude Harbarger, a pediatric otolaryngologist with UMMC Ear, Nose and Throat. “It can affect adults and children, and most commonly occurs from swimming in unclean water.”  When water stays in your ear canal, bacteria or fungi can grow.

Claude Harbarger

While each person’s symptoms of swimmer’s ear may vary, common symptoms include redness of the outer ear, itchiness inside the ear, drainage from the ear, and pain when tugging on the ear. “Patients may also experience muffled hearing along with a plugged-up feeling in the ear”, said Harbarger.  He notes that fever is possible, though not common. 

Swimmer’s ear is a condition that requires medical treatment. Dr. Harbarger stresses you should get to the doctor as soon as you experience ear pain and drainage. “Swimmer’s ear is not a condition that will go away on its own, it needs to be treated with antibiotic drops from the doctor’s office. If left untreated the infection can spread to nearby tissue and even cause permanent damage to the ear.”  Once treatment begins, patients typically feel better within 2-3 days though it can take 7-10 days to feel totally normal.

Prevention is key. “One thing I’d like to stress is that ear wax acts as a protectant for the ear canal”, said Harbarger.  “Removing ear wax with cotton swabs removes this protective barrier”.  In addition to keeping your ears naturally protected, consider the following preventative measures: 

  • Tilt your head to each side to encourage water to drain out of your ears after swimming or bathing
  • Aim a hair dryer on the lowest and coolest setting towards the ear. Use a back and forth motion approximately 12 inches from the head to help water evaporate.
  • Ask your doctor about special drops that dry out the ear canal.
  • Wear ear plugs when swimming or bathing. 

While ear plugs may be purchased over the counter at your local pharmacy, UMMC Ear, Nose and Throat offers a custom option for superior fit.  Custom-fit ear plugs are made from impressions taken of your ears to fit you, and you alone. This ensure an optimal fit to keep water out of your ear canals. 

If you are suffering from ear pain, or are interested custom fit ear plugs before your next pool party call UMMC Ear, Nose and Throat a call at 601-984-5160 to schedule an appointment.