Otitis Externa (external ear infections) is one of the most common ear infections that occur in warm weather with water activities, i.e. swimming in the Gulf, pools or rivers. This is commonly referred to as “Swimmer’s ear”. This infection can occur anytime water remains in the ear canals (even with bathing or showering). Hot humid weather also contributes to this condition. Causes of otitis externa include traumatization of external ear canal with aggressive use of cotton swabs, bobby pins or other objects that are sometimes used to clear the ear canal. The use of ear plugs/buds and hearing aids can also contribute to this condition. Medical conditions such as eczema can affect the ear canal. Severe infections can occur in individuals that are immunocompromised, have diabetes or other debilitating diseases that suppress the body’s ability to fight infection.
Most of the infections are bacterial (90%), while some are fungal (10%) and can be treated with the appropriate prescription ear drops. For more severe cases, oral medication may be prescribed to fight the infection and inflammation.
The infection can be deemed chronic if it lasts longer than 6 weeks.
How do you know you have an EXTERNAL ear infection?
Symptoms include variable length history of itching, plugging of the ear, pain with movement of the ear/auricle, discharge from the ear, swelling and redness of the ear canal and/or decrease in hearing. Sometimes an ear canal blocked with cerumen/ear wax can cause similar symptoms.
If you have these symptoms, you should seek evaluation by a health care provider to determine if it is an external or an INTERNAL ear infection, and to have it treated with the proper medication.
Prevention of recurrent Otitis externa/swimmer’s ear
You can buy an expensive store-prepared solution or make your own. Mix equal parts White Vinegar/isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol)/water in a squeeze bottle. After swimming and drying the outer ear, squirt a generous amount into each ear. This can also be used to help dry ears after showering.
Have a safe summer, always use sunscreen and be alert for signs of Otitis externa!
“Eardropper Over Ear Stock Photo” by Marin provided by freedigitalphotos.net.