ENT specialist Dr. Gerard O’Halloran explains:
The formal name for Swimmer’s Ear is otitis externa. It’s an infection of the skin of the ear canal that can be caused by swimming, but can also be caused by trauma to the skin of the ear canal by Q-tips or scratching. The bacteria that cause otitis externa love moisture, so the infections are more common during swimming season and when the weather is humid, but it can also occur during dry winter months. Anyone of any age can get it.
How do I know if I have swimmer’s ear?
Swimmer’s ear is often VERY painful. If you have it, it hurts to wiggle the outer ear or the tragus (that small triangle of cartilage in front of the ear opening). The ear often feels plugged too. Health care providers can look into the ear canal and see that it is swollen and red. There is often white debris in the ear canal from the infection.
How is swimmer’s ear treated?
Antibiotic/cortisone ear drops are the main treatment; oral antibiotics are used if the infection seems to be spreading outside of the ear canal. Sometimes the ear canal needs to be suctioned clean so the drops can get in. Rarely, the canal is so swollen that the drops can’t get in. In that case, a wick made of expandable foam can be placed temporarily so that the drops will penetrate.
Best tips to get better faster
The drops work when they are in contact with the ear canal skin. Use lots of drops the first few days (up to six or more times per day) and let the drops stay in the ear canal by lying down on the opposite side for ten minutes or so after the drops have been placed. Use enough drops to fill the entire ear canal--usually 4 to 6 drops at a time.
Keep water out of the affected ear for at least a week. Half a cotton ball smeared with Vaseline placed over the ear canal hole makes a good ear plug to use for bathing.
When to call your doctor
If the pain isn’t better after two days of treatment
If the drops aren’t getting in
If there is swelling in the face around the ear
If you are diabetic or have decreased immunity (for example, chemotherapy patients)
To make an appointment with Dr. O’Halloran, call the Northfield Clinic at (507) 646-1494.