What is a Swimmer’s Ear?
Swimmer’s ear is medically termed as Otitis externa. It is an infection of the outer ear and the ear canal associated with inflammation, pain and irritation. The occurrence of infection and inflammation within the ear canal is the consequence of water retained within the canal harboring bacterial growth from moist environment created by water retention and other forms of trauma involving the ear canal.
Ear canal is a passageway connected to the eardrum. Ear canal is for the protection of the ear from any foreign object from entering the inner ear owing to its length that makes it difficult for foreign object from making its way through the inner ear and subsequently causing ear infection.
The incidence of swimmer’s ear may happen to both adult men and women although it is more common to children and teenagers as they are more active and spends a lot of time in the water especially during the hot summer. The term swimmer’s ear was coined after its high incidence during summer when most people especially children and teenagers are out and swimming in the water potentially at risk for having water retention within their ear canals.
The symptoms of otitis externa depend on the form classified according to the extent of severity of infection. The varying degree of the symptoms depend on how the patient regarded the onset which could go worse if neglected and not acted upon with any remedies or medical intervention. Pain is generally the initial symptom of infection associated with feeling of fullness and itchiness in the ear where usually only one ear is affected.
Mild symptoms of otitis externa generally include:
- Itchiness within the ear canal
- Slight reddish discoloration of the inside of the affected ear
- Mild irritation of the ear that may be aggravated with pulling or pushing of the outer ear
- Presence of ear drainage that may appear clear, whitish, yellowish or may have blood tinges and which may also have a foul smell
Moderate progression occurs when early symptom is disregarded leaving the condition untreated which may then progress to stage that may have moderate severity. Such symptom includes:
- Pain is gradually increasing that may become unbearable
- Ear itching is gradually intensifying that may become uncomfortable to an individual
- Reddish discoloration of the ear intensifies
- Affected ear is marked by swelling that can block the ear canal
- Blockage of ear canal from swelling will cause muffled hearing on the affected site
- Debris and fluid discharge subsequently blocks the air passage to and from the ear canal
- Hearing may be impaired or may decrease
- Pus discharge is present
- Feeling of fullness inside the ear intensifies
Advance progression will most likely to occur as the effect of bacterial infection intensifies and spread to other parts of the ear canal. Symptoms is just similar with earlier stage only the intensity of severity increases making it unbearably painful which can hinder quality of life and affect daily activities. Such advance progression has symptoms such as:
- Pain is intense radiating to parts within the perimeter of the affected ear such as in the neck, face and sides of the head.
- Increasing headache
- Inflammation of the out ear
- Reddish discoloration of the outer ear from inflammation
- Ear blockage is complete
- Hearing impairment as a result of complete ear blockage
- Lymph nodes in the neck will become palpable and enlarge from inflammation
- Onset of fever
It is nevertheless significant to have the ears check if any of the signs and symptoms is being experienced to avoid progression of the infection which consequently may lead to a more serious medical complication. Severe pain associated with fever is recommended to have an emergency visit to the hospital to properly address the problem and prevent further damage and complication.
Swimmer’s ear is primarily resulted from invasion of bacteria that can be found both in water and soil and commonly thrives in moist environment. The infection of these bacteria can overwhelm the natural defense of the ear which comprises of the cerumen and the structure of the ear canal in downward slope. Cerumen is water repellant and contains acid in light concentration to kill or prevent bacterial growth. The anatomical structure of downward slope of the ear canal helps in draining out fluid or water within the ear canal to prevent retention. These natural defenses of the ear canal may become overwhelmed and weakens the function of protecting the ears and makes room for bacteria to thrive. Staphylococcus and pseudomonas are the two common bacteria that cause swimmer’s ear. Predisposing factors that may put one at risk for otitis externa as a result of trauma in the skin barriers of the ear canal may include:
- Acid interruption in the ear canal resulting from excessive moisture within the ear that may have acquired from swimming, showering and any forms of activities requiring water exposure.
- Break in the skin lining of the barrier from trauma or cuts in using cotton buds and other gadgets and devices that requires insertion in the ear.
- Chemicals and other substances that may irritate the ear such as shampoos, hair dyes, bleaches and others.
The goal of treatment for swimmer’s ear is to inhibit bacterial infection from spreading to other and nearby parts while treating it and relief of symptoms that hinders quality of life. Such treatment includes:
- Antibiotic eardrops with or without corticosteroid to treat infection and inflammation
- Acetaminophen for pain relief
- Antihistamine to relieve itchiness
Swimmer’s ear can also be prevented and treated within the confines of the house and such includes:
- Avoid removing any debris in the ear to avoid aggravating the condition
- Prevent water exposure and activities until affected ear is fully healed and restored
- Relieve pain through application of warm compress over the affected ear
- Do not attempt to poke the affected ear with cotton swabs or any other materials
- Maintain cleanliness and dryness of the ear
Swimmer’s Ear Pictures
Picture collection of Swimmer’s Ear…