During the hot, summer months, families flock to local pools and lakes to cool off. But, these public watering holes increase your risk of contracting swimmer’s ear, according to Dr. Guy Handley of Brookwood ENT.
What exactly is swimmer’s ear? It’s an outer ear infection caused by water remaining in the ear after—you guessed it—swimming. “The water creates a moist environment that hosts bacterial growth, and is seen more frequently in the summer when people are likely to be swimming in dirtier water, like a lake or public pool,” says Handley.
How does someone get swimmer’s ear? According to experts at the Mayo Clinic, swimmer’s ear can also be contracted by putting fingers, cotton swabs or other objects in your ear, causing damage to the thin layer of skin that lines your ear canal. “What happens is, the skin becomes infected and will usually be swollen and red, and possibly secrete drainage,” says Handley.
Symptoms begin mild but can progress quickly. “The bacteria will cause the ear to become itchy and irritated,” says Handley. If untreated, you may experience a feeling of blockage in the ear, as well as decreased or muffled hearing. “The most severe cases will cause the infection to spread to the mastoid bone or even out onto the face.”
Who is at risk? Anyone going into the water is automatically at risk of getting swimmer’s ear, but other factors can increase one’s chances, as well. Scratches or abrasions in the ear can cause small breaks in the skin, allowing the infection to grow.
The best treatment is prevention, according to Handley. “You can keep your ears dry while swimming by using ear plugs anytime you are in the water. You can purchase over-the-counter drops with alcohol, which evaporates water out of the ear canal.” Handley also suggests using a hair dryer, set on a cool, medium speed and holding it approximately one foot from the ear to let it dry.
When should someone see a doctor? “Anyone with a severe infection should see a doctor immediately, but swimmer’s ear is easy to treat at home if it is taken care of as soon as one feels discomfort after swimming,” says Handley.
By Sloane Hudson
To learn more about Dr. Guy Handley, click here.
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