Acute external otitis – more commonly known as swimmer’s ear – is an infection that affects the outer ear canal. This type of infection was named “swimmer’s ear” because it’s very often brought on by water remaining in the outer ear after swimming, which creates a moist environment which encourages the growth of bacteria. Swimmer’s ear may also be brought on by poking your fingers, Q-tips, or other objects into your ears, because they can scuff or injure the sensitive ear canal lining, leaving it open to infection. Although swimmer’s ear is usually very easily treated, you should learn and recognize the symptoms of it, because left untreated it can cause serious complications.

Swimmer’s ear crops up because the ear’s natural defenses (glands that secrete a water-repellant, waxy film termed cerumen) have become overwhelmed. Moisture in the ears, sensitivity reactions, and scratches to the ear canal lining can all encourage the growth of bacteria, and lead to infection. Activities that raise your chance of developing swimmer’s ear include swimming (naturally, particularly in untreated water such as lakes), overly aggressive cleaning of the ear canal with cotton swabs or other objects, use of devices that sit inside the ear such as “ear buds” or hearing aids, and allergies.

Mild signs of swimmer’s ear include itching inside the ear, minor discomfort or pain made worse by pulling on the ear, redness, and a colorless liquid draining from the ear. Severe itching, increased pain and discharge of pus suggest a moderate case of swimmer’s ear. In extreme cases of infection, swimmer’s ear can result in intense pain that extends to other parts of the face, head, or neck, redness or swelling of the outer ear or lymph nodes, fever, and blockage of the ear canal. Side effects may include temporary hearing loss, long-term infection of the outer ear, cartilage and bone loss, and deep-tissue infections that can spread to other parts of the body and reduce the effectiveness of your body’s immune system. Therefore, if you have experienced any of these signs or symptoms, even if mild, see your doctor.

During your appointment, the doctor will look for indications of swimmer’s ear with an otoscope, which allows them to peer deep into your ear canal. Physicians will also make certain that your eardrum hasn’t been ruptured or damaged. If you definitely have swimmer’s ear, the conventional treatment consists of cautiously cleaning the ears and using prescription eardrops to fight the infectious bacteria. If the infection is really serious, your physician can also prescribe antibiotics taken orally to help combat it.

You can help to prevent swimmer’s ear by drying your ears after bathing or swimming, by avoiding swimming in untreated water, and by not inserting foreign objects in your ears in an attempt to clean them.

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