If you notice itchiness and fullness in the ear and experience significant pain when you even touch your earlobe after spending your weekend at pool or after returning from a vacation, then you might be experiencing typical symptoms of a condition called Swimmer’s Ear or Otitis Externa (inflammation of the outer part of the ear). The condition can be very painful.

What Causes Swimmer’s Ear?

A bacterium of the species Pseudomonas aeruginosa causes Otitis externa or swimmer’s ear – a painful infection. It is the most common cause though other fungal and bacterial species can also cause the condition. A person swimming in a pool or water body cannot see these microbes with his or her naked eyes – and therefore – may get the infection after swimming in the pool.

The microbes from the contaminated water enter inside the ear and find the environment conducive to thrive and sustain for long. After their entry they settle down in the ear as the ambiance inside is dark, narrow and warm with many structures which can be potentially damaged. Owing to such a potentially inviting habitat, the microbes grow and multiply comfortably and inflict damage to the ear by causing inflammation and irritation. The tissue damage inside the ear prompts an immune response, and then the symptoms of swimmer’s ear manifest one after the other.

What Are the Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear?

Swimmer’s ear symptoms: The person who suffers from this condition may experience significant and persistent pain with unusual discharge from the ear along with itching, inflammation and irritation in the ear; the pain can be experienced when the earlobe is pressed or pulled; pressure and fullness develop inside the ear with redness and disturbed hearing. In most severe cases the symptoms can include fever, enlarged lymph nodes, swelling in the ears, pain that radiates to neck and face; heavy discharge with swelling and significant redness and hearing impairment.

The sooner you see your doctor the better because the conditions like swimmer’s ear or otitis externa usually takes longer to heal completely if the treatment is not sought in the early stages. With early diagnosis, the treatment can be quick and the outcome will be better – but the treatment sought after the condition has reached to advanced stage will require more involved treatment and longer healing period.

How is Swimmer’s Ear Diagnosed?

If a person is presented with the typical signs and symptoms of otitis externa, an ENT specialist based on the personal history and ear examination diagnoses the condition. A light mounted instrument known as Otoscope is used to examine the inside of the ear.

What type of Swimmer’s Ear Treatment is available?

Swimmer’s ear treatment depends on the severity of infection. Mild infection usually requires minimal treatment involving thorough cleaning of the ear by the doctor and usage of ear drops to help prevent microbial growth and to keep the internal area of the ear dry and clean. For more advanced cases of otitis externa involving severe symptoms, the treatment modality includes pain medication, antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medicines. For the cases involving the spread of infection to eardrum or damage caused to eardrum intensive treatment and follow-ups are necessary.

The patient undergoing treatment must ensure that the medicines prescribed by the doctor is being taken as directed by the doctor with prompt follow-up appointments. Regular follow up with the doctor and monitoring the treatment will help the doctor to adjust the dosage and medicines according to the situation.

What are good strategies for preventing swimmer’s ear?

There are many health benefits of aquatic sports and swimming so they cannot be ignored as such – but prior to involving in these activities, it is important to protect and take care of ears.

The first thing that you can do is to avoid contaminated water from entering into the ears. Therefore, avoid swimming in ponds, lakes or pools that are contaminated. To prevent swimmer’s ear, try the following things:

Wear proper swimming costume and tight-fitting bathing cap.

After getting out of the pool, immediately dry ears with a towel or a hair dryer set to lowest temperature setting.

Do not enter any lake, pond or pool if you get little bit suspicious about the water condition.

Prefer swimming only in pools that are well-maintained with proper water purification, chlorination, pH and water management systems.

Avoid swimming in unknown water bodies or lakes if you are prone to ear infections.

Do not put cotton plugs, ear plugs or any other improper instruments in the ears while swimming.

Do not put your fingers into the ear if you feel itching inside. The area inside your ear is very delicate – even a small prick by your finger nail, which cannot be felt also can make you prone to ear infections.