Acute external otitis is an infection of the outer ear canal – the portion outside your eardrum. More people know it by its common name – swimmer’s ear. It was given the name “swimmer’s ear” because it’s frequently brought on by water staying in the outer ear following swimming, which provides a damp environment which promotes bacterial growth. But water is not the only source. Acute external otitis can also be attributable to harming the delicate skin lining the ear canal by poking fingers, Q-tips or other objects in the ear. Fortunately swimmer’s ear is readily treated. If left untreated, swimmer’s ear can cause serious complications so it is vital that you identify the symptoms of the infection.

Swimmer’s ear develops as the result of the ear’s innate protection mechanisms (including the glands that secrete cerumen or ear wax) becoming overloaded. Moisture in the ears, sensitivity reactions, and scratches to the lining of the ear canal can all encourage the growth of bacteria, and cause infection. Specific activities will increase your likelihood of getting swimmer’s ear. Swimming, use of ‘in-ear’ devices (including hearing aids), overly aggressive cleaning of the ear canal and allergies all raise your chances of infection.

The most frequent symptoms of swimmer’s ear are itching in the ear canal, mild discomfort gets worse by pulling on your ear, a mild redness inside the ear, and mild drainage of an odorless, clear liquid. Moderate symptoms include increased itching and pain and discharge of pus-like liquids. Extreme cases of swimmer’s ear are accompanied by symptoms such as fever, severe pain which may radiate into other parts of the head, neck and face, swelling redness of the outer ear or lymph nodes, and possibly blockage of the ear canal. If untreated, complications from swimmer’s ear can be extremely serious. Complications may include temporary hearing loss, long-term ear infections, deep tissue infections which may spread to other parts of the body, and cartilage or bone loss. The potential for serious complications implies that you should visit a doctor when you first suspect swimmer’s ear – even a minor case.

During your office visit, the doctor will look for signs of swimmer’s ear with an otoscope, which allows them to peer deep into your ear. The doctor will examine the eardrum in both ears to make sure that there is not a rupture or other damage. Physicians typically treat swimmer’s ear first by cleaning the ears thoroughly, and then by prescribing eardrops to eliminate the infection. If the infection is serious, your doctor may also prescribe oral antibiotics to help combat it.

To avoid swimmer’s ear, dry your ears thoroughly after swimming or showering, avoid swimming in untreated water resources, and don’t place foreign objects into your ears to clean them.

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