Acute otitis externa or swimmer’s ear is prevalent in the United States, especially during summer. More time spent in the water and increased duration of head submersion are the two main reasons for the increase in swimmer’s ear during the hot summer months. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 2 million cases of swimmer’s ear are diagnosed in the United States annually. In Hawaii, the condition usually occurs among children and pediatric specialist see more cases of Otitis Externa in summer.
What is Swimmer’s Ear?
Swimmer’s ear is a bacterial infection in the ear canal typically caused by water staying in the outer ear canal that runs between the outside of the ear to the eardrum. The moist environment is perfect for bacteria to grow and thrive and disrupt the protective earwax from doing its job.
Foreign objects that stick in the ear, such as cotton swabs or fungi, can also disrupt the protective earwax and make the canal more susceptible to scratching and damage, increasing the risk of bacterial infection. Swimmer’s ear is more common among children and people who spend more time outdoors.
Signs and Symptoms of Acute Otitis Externa
AOE, aka swimmer’s ear, is quite easy to identify due to obvious symptoms that include:
- Persistent itchiness inside the ear
- Pain in the ear
- Swelling and redness of the ear and the ear canal
- A heavy or full feeling in the ear
- Drainage coming out of the ear
- Increased pain or discomfort when the outer ear is pulled, or the little bump called tragus is pressed
Once the infection advances, the symptoms get worse and can include:
- Severe pain in the neck and head
- Blocked ear canal
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
Preventing Swimmer’s Ear
The best way to prevent swimmer’s ear is to keep your ears as dry as possible by using earplugs or bathing caps when taking a bath or a shower or swimming. Once you are done swimming or showering, make sure you dry your ears well and tilt your head back and forth to release any water trapped in the ear canal. Avoid putting objects in or near the ear canal such as cotton swabs, pencils, etc., to prevent damage to the protective wax.
Treating Swimmer’s Ear
The CEO of Urgent Care Hawaii, Donna Schmidt, recently stated while discussing the prevalence of swimmer’s ear, “swimmer’s ear should be treated immediately with antibiotic ear drops or steroid medication to prevent it from getting worse. If left untreated, the infection can progress into a painful condition and can cause complications that require extensive and advanced treatments. In some cases, the ear canal can need cleaning, and the physician might prescribe oral antibiotics to curb the spread of the infection.”
If you are experiencing discharge from the ear or persistent pain in the ear, don’t ignore the signs. Get in touch with the doctors on call at Urgent Care Hawaii for effective virtual healthcare services today!