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Published on August 14, 2017

Listen up! Here are some tips on swimmer’s ear

Listen up! Here are some tips on swimmer’s ear

There’s nothing like a quick dip to beat the heat, but your summer memories will be a lot sunnier if you can avoid swimmer’s ear.

“We see it all the time on the Cape in the summer,” said otolaryngologist Craig Jones, MD.

The good news is that it’s easily diagnosed and treated. 

Technically known as acute otitis externa, swimmer’s ear is an infection in the ear canal, the outer part of the ear, he said. Swimmer’s ear causes the ear canal to swell and can be very painful. The ear is likely to be very tender even with a light touch.

“There’s a bacteria called Pseudomonas, which is a normal bacteria in the ear canal, but if it gets trapped under the skin in the ear canal, it can cause this infection. It’s one of the most painful types of ear infection you can get.”

The best way to avoid swimmer’s ear is to let the water in your ears evaporate. Simply titling your head will help get some of the water out.

Avoid using Q-tips to dry out your ear,” he said. People often use a Q-tip to absorb the water, but this can cause the bacteria to be pushed right into the skin and result in the infection, he said.

“Don’t itch or scratch the ear. Some people wrap up tissues and try to clean the ear that way. You shouldn’t put anything in the ear to clean it or dry it.”

Prevention and Treatment

If you’re prone to swimmer’s ear, using ear plugs when swimming can make a difference, Dr. Jones said.

“They prevent water from getting in the ear,” he said. “I recommend over-the-counter silicone or wax ones, which come in a set of six, just because people lose them.”

Ear plugs don’t stick if the ear is wet, so you have to make sure you dry the outer part of the ear and use them in the way the manufacturer recommends, he added.

“If people do a lot of swimming, sometimes they’ll pay to have a custom ear mold made, where they get an impression taken of the ear, just like someone would for a hearing aid. Those work pretty well,” said Dr. Jones.

Some people use over-the-counter water-drying ear drops after swimming, he said. They contain alcohol, which helps displace the water and makes it evaporate faster.

If someone has had ear pain for several hours, they should seek medical care, he said.

“Swimmer’s ear is very painful. The person’s going to know it quickly,” he said.

It can be diagnosed and treated at the office of a pediatrician or primary care physician or at one of the Cape Cod Healthcare Urgent Care Centers, Dr. Jones said.

“It’s readily treated with antibiotic drops and that’s usually all you need to treat it,” he said. “It doesn’t require oral antibiotics, unlike a middle-ear infection.