Swimmer’s ear describes an infection in the outer ear canal, often leaving a visible area that appears red and sore.
The ear canal connects the opening of your ear to the eardrum. And, if water stays in this narrow channel, bacteria can grow, leading to swelling, irritation, or infection — or otitis externa, more commonly known as “swimmer’s ear.”
Common signs of swimmer’s ear include:
- Itching in the ear
- Yellow, yellow-green, or foul-smelling pus coming from the ear
- A plugged or feeling of fullness in the ear
- Swollen ear canal or neck glands
- Pain, especially when touching or moving the earlobe
- Hearing loss
Fortunately, swimmer’s ear often responds to treatment within 7-10 days. However, Dr. Vandana Kumra at ENT New York recommends taking these steps to avoid infection in the first place.
Understanding swimmer’s ear
Infections can develop when water becomes trapped in the ear canal, causing bacteria to grow. Because of this, unclean water is a leading cause of swimmer’s ear.
Additional factors that can lead to otitis externa include:
- Warm, humid environments
- Using objects, swabs, or fingers to clean or scratch your ear canals
- An injury to the ear canal
- Dry ear canal skin or excess earwax
- Objects in the ear canal, like headphones or hearing aids
You can also develop ear infections due to allergies and skin conditions in response to hair products and jewelry.
Recognizing your risks for swimmer’s ear
Since certain factors lead to swimmer’s ear, the next step in avoiding infection is identifying your risks. These range from swimming and spending time in water with high bacteria levels to aggressively cleaning your ears and even using devices like earbuds or hearing aids.
Have you noticed anything that could put you at risk for swimmer’s ear? Now, you can put a plan in place to avoid infection.
Keep your ears dry
First and foremost, always thoroughly dry your ears after bathing and swimming. Use a soft towel or cloth to gently wipe the outer ear and tip your head to the side to help excess water drain from the ear canal.
If you see alerts for high bacterial counts, don’t head into the water. Instead, postpone your swim for another day.
Don’t put things in your ears!
Cotton swabs may get promoted as ear-cleaning devices, but you shouldn’t put anything in your ear, including your fingers, paperclips, or hairpins. These devices can irritate or damage the delicate skin inside your ear canal and pack material deeper inside.
Protect yourself from irritants
If you suspect a sensitivity to certain products is behind your swimmer’s ear, put cotton balls in your ear openings when applying them. This can prevent any substances from entering your ear canal.
If you have recurring problems with swimmer’s ear and other infections, Dr. Kumra recommends scheduling an appointment so she can create a personalized treatment strategy to help. For example, she may suggest using ear-drop solutions before high-risk activities to prevent the growth of bacteria.
Dr. Kumra can also offer guidelines on when you can resume swimming or other activities safely if you’ve recently been diagnosed with an ear infection or undergone ear surgery.
Need more help preventing swimmer’s ear? Contact ENT New York in New York City to schedule a consultation with Dr. Kumra by calling 646-859-6136 or booking online today.