Acute external otitis is an infection of the outer ear canal – the part outside the eardrum. More people recognize it by its common name – swimmer’s ear. This type of infection was named “swimmer’s ear” because it is very often a result of water staying in the outer ear after swimming, which provides a damp environment that promotes the growth of bacteria. It may also be brought on by stiking your fingertips, cotton swabs, or other objects into your ears, because they can scratch or injure the delicate ear canal lining, leaving it open to infection. Despite the fact that swimmer’s ear is usually easily treated, you need to know and recognize the symptoms of it, because left untreated it can cause severe complications.

If the ear’s innate defenses are overloaded, the end result can be swimmer’s ear. Bacteria can get a foothold and begin flourish in the ears for a variety of reasons including surplus moisture or scratches to the lining of the ear canal. The activities that increase your risk of developing swimmer’s ear include swimming (particularly in untreated water such as that found in lakes), overly aggressive cleaning of the ear canal with Q-tips, use of in-ear devices such as “ear buds” or hearing aids, and allergies.

Mild signs of swimmer’s ear include itching within the ear, minor pain or discomfort made worse by pulling on the ear, redness, and a colorless fluid draining from the ear. In more moderate cases of infection, these problems may progress to more intense itching, pain, and discharge of pus. In extreme cases of infection, swimmer’s ear can result in intense pain that radiates to other areas of the face, head, or neck, swelling or redness of the outer ear or lymph nodes, fever, and obstruction of the ear canal. Complications of untreated swimmer’s ear may be significant, including temporary hearing loss, bone and cartilage loss, long-term ear infections, and the spreading of deep-tissue infections to other parts of the body. So if you experience even the milder symptoms of swimmer’s ear, it is a good idea to visit your health care provider right away.

Doctors can usually diagnose swimmer’s ear after a visual examination with an otoscope. Physicians will also make certain that your eardrum hasn’t been damaged or ruptured. Doctors usually treat swimmer’s ear by first cleaning the ears thoroughly, and then by prescribing eardrops to remove the infection. If the infection has become widespread or serious, the physician may also prescribe oral antibiotics.

Just remember these three tips to avoid contracting swimmer’s ear.

  1. Dry your ears thoroughly after showering or swimming.
  2. Avoid swimming in open, untreated bodies of water.
  3. Don’t place any foreign objects in your ears in an effort to clean them.
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