During a sweltering New York summer day, there’s nothing quite like taking the plunge in a nearby river or lake or out in the Atlantic. Unfortunately, bacteria also feel the same and they like to hang out in these waters. When some water gets stuck in your ear after swimming, that makes a great environment for that bacteria to get busy multiplying.
Uh oh, now you have the beginnings of swimmer’s ear.
Once you have signs, it’s wise to call Dr. Volpi at New York ENT and have him stop the swimmer’s ear before it starts doing a backstroke in your ear.
What is swimmer’s ear?
Clinically known as otitis externa, swimmer’s ear is an infection in the outer ear canal. This is the canal that runs from the eardrum to the outside of the head. It is typically the result of days at the beach or lake with lots of swimming and balmy temperatures. Any water trapped in the ear, whether sitting behind some earwax or just otherwise stuck back there creates a moist environment for any bacteria in the water to grow and multiply, leading to an infection.
Signs of swimmer’s ear
Swimmer’s ear starts with mild symptoms, but they can worsen if there isn’t any treatment.
- Early symptoms — Itching in your ear canal; slight redness inside your ear; mild discomfort; some drainage of clear, odorless fluid
- Moderate symptoms — More-intense itching, increasing pain, deepening redness, excessive fluid drainage, muffled hearing, a feeling of fullness inside your ear
- Advanced symptoms — Severe pain that may radiate to the face or side of the head, complete blockage of your ear canal, redness or swelling of the outer ear, swelling in the lymph nodes in your neck, fever
Complications of swimmer’s ear
Swimmer’s ear is usually not serious and is easily reversed, but if left untreated it can lead to some serious issues:
- Long-term infection — This is an infection lasting longer than three months. This is more common if certain conditions exist, such as allergic skin reactions, allergic reactions to antibiotic eardrops, dermatitis or psoriasis, or a combination of bacterial and fungal infection.
- Deep tissue infection — In rare instances, the infection can spread to deep layers and connective tissue of the skin.
- Bone and cartilage damage — In rare instances, the infection can spread to the cartilage of the outer ear and to bones of the lower part of the skull.
- More-widespread infection — In certain conditions, the infection can spread to other parts of the body, such as the brain or nearby nerves.
How swimmer’s ear is treated
The first step in treatment is for Dr. Volpi to clean the outer ear canal using a suction device or ear curette to clean away discharge, clumps of earwax, flaky skin, and other debris. From there, he will prescribe eardrops that have some combination of the following ingredients: acidic solution, corticosteroid, antibiotic, and antifungal medication (if infection is due to a fungus).
Treating and clearing swimmer’s ear is not difficult, so this isn’t something to leave alone if you have the above-listed symptoms. Call us at New York ENT, 212-873-6036, to schedule your appointment.