Swimming is one of the healthiest body exercises, providing full body exercises and using only body weight with no additional burdens. The water diminishes the weight to be carried, making it seem easy to swim. Many professional swimmers, especially those who compete, including the competitive divers, can be seen wearing silicone earplugs. This is done to avoid the danger of contracting otitis externa when spending a lot of time submerged in any water.

What Is Swimmer’s Ear?

Swimmer’s ear, or otitis externa, is typically a bacterial infection of the skin of the outer ear canal. In contrast to a middle ear infection, swimmers ear is an infection of the outer ear. Otitis externa is an infection that occurs in the ear canal. That is the tube in which runs from the outer hole of your ear to your eardrum.

Swimmer’s ear is a treatable condition that usually resolves quickly with appropriate treatment. Most often, swimmer’s ear can easily be treated with antibiotic ear drops. Chronic swimmer’s ear may require more intensive treatment. Swimmer’s ear typically does not have any long-term or serious complications. The best preventative measure for avoiding swimmer’s ear is to just keep the ear dry as much as you can.

What Are The Causes And Symptoms Of Swimmer’s Ear?

Causes

The most common cause of swimmer’s ear is bacteria and fungi invading the skin inside your ear canal. It can occur in both acute and chronic forms. Bacterial infections can occur when your inner ear’s natural defenses become overwhelmed. This can be as a result of excess water within the ear, scratches inside the ear canal, or sensitivity reactions such as allergies or skin conditions.

Some factors that may increase your risk of developing an ear infection include:

  • Swimming – especially in water that contains increased bacteria levels such as a lake  
  • A narrow ear canal – for example, in a child who is more likely to experience a buildup excess fluid and trapped water
  • Use of certain ear devices such as headphones or a hearing aid
  • Skin allergies or irritation from hairsprays, perfumes, or other substances
  • Aggressive cleaning of the ear canal using cotton swabs or other objects

Symptoms

The symptoms of swimmer’s ear are usually mild at first, but will usually get worse if the infection remains untreated or if it spreads to other areas.

The main symptoms of swimmer’s ear include:

  • Itching in the ear canal
  • Slight visible redness and swelling on the inside of the ear
  • Mild discomfort when touching the outer parts of the ear
  • Some drainage of fluid
  • A feeling of fullness inside the ear canal

More serious symptoms include a completely blocked ear canal, pus leakage, fullness feeling in throat, and a fever. If you experience any of these symptoms, then you should call your doctor immediately or visit your nearest emergency room.

Acute Vs. Chronic Swimmer’s Ear

Swimmer’s ear can occur in both acute and chronic forms. Acute external otitis is commonly a bacterial infection caused by the Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, or Pseudomonas types of bacteria. Chronic (long-term) swimmer’s ear is otitis externa that persists for longer than four weeks or more than four times a year. This condition can be caused by a bacterial infection, a skin condition (eczema or seborrhea), fungal infection

(Aspergillosis), chronic irritation (such as from the use of hearing aids, insertion of cotton swabs, etc.), allergy, chronic drainage from middle ear disease, tumors (rare), or it may simply follow from a nervous habit of frequently scratching the ear.

In some people, more than one factor may be involved. For example, a person with eczema may subsequently develop black ear drainage. This would suggest an accompanying fungal infection.

Chronic swimmer’s ear can become a serious disease (malignant external otitis). Malignant external otitis is a misnomer because it is not a tumor or cancer, but rather an aggressive bacterial (typically pseudomonas) infection of the base of the skull.

How To Know If Your Child Has Swimmer’s Ear

Ear pain is the main symptom of swimmer’s ear. If your child is complaining of ear pain then it is important to take them to the doctor as soon as possible for a professional diagnosis. Early treatment of swimmer’s ear is beneficial for a fast recovery.

If your child appears to be itching or rubbing their ear a lot, this can also be a sign of swimmer’s ear, especially if the itching is accompanied by pain.

If you notice your child’s ear has developed redness and swelling, then you may find that your child complains of a feeling of fullness in their ear. This is a sign of swimmer’s ear. The outer parts of the ear may also appear redder than usual. There may also be dry ear symptoms, such as chapped skin on the outer ear.

In some cases, there may be a clear fluid discharge from the ear, and in worse cases, the child may complain of a loss of hearing. This is not something to worry about deeply, as it is usually just a result of swelling or blockages from pus or other build ups in the ear.

If your child has any of the symptoms listed above, it is essential that you take them to a doctor so that they can get a medical diagnosis and begin treatment to avoid the infection getting worse or potentially spreading.

Who Is Most Prone to Getting Swimmer’s Ear?

People suffering from chronic skin conditions like seborrhea or eczema are more prone to getting this infection. Other people who can get this type of ear infection include:

  • People who have experienced an injury to the ear canal
  • People who naturally have small ear canals that do not drain out water completely on their own
  • People who suffer from chronic infections of the middle ear
  • People who use hairspray or earplugs often
  • People who tend to get water into their ears while taking a bath or shower.
  • Children as they have small ear canals naturally

How Can Swimmer’s Ear Be Prevented?

There are many ways in which swimmer’s ear can be prevented. Here are some of the most common and effective ways of preventing swimmer’s ear:

  • Decrease exposure to water, and avoid contaminated pools at all costs.
  • If you are prone to infections, it is recommended that you use an ear plug when you bathe or swim to keep the ear dry. Swimmer’s ear drops or alcohol drops (Swim-EAR®) used in the ear after water exposure followed by drying the ear with a hair dryer held at arm’s length will often help keep the ear free of moisture.
  • Do not insert instruments, scratch, or use cotton swabs in the ears unless they are legitimate ear plugs.
  • Try to keep the ear free of wax. Clean your ears regularly using hydrogen peroxide. A hydrogen peroxide solution will help to remove wax from the ear that may trap water.
  • You should not attempt to put anything into the ear canal (such as a swab) to try to remove earwax that is deep within the ear canal.
  • Eat a nutritious diet to increase your immunity.
  • Always wear a swimming cap and safe earplugs while swimming
  • If you have a pre-existing ear condition such as a hole in your eardrum, previously had surgery on the inner ear, or if you currently already have a type of ear infection, then you must consult your doctor before entering water or using ear drops.
  • Avoid rubbing or scratching within the ear canal
  • Dry your ear after bathing and swimming

silicone earplugs and swimmers ear

Preventing Swimmer’s Ear With Ear Plugs

Swimmer’s ear, or otitis externa, can be prevented by using silicone earplugs. They are most commonly used to block out noise but have been recognized by swimmers to be excellent in protecting their ears from water. There are several silicone earplugs available, the most popular ones being made out of silicone putty, which is entirely moldable to fit each individual.

Silicone earplugs were invented by Raymond Benner, a musician who bought the existing earplug business from a pharmacist. The product was called Mack’s Earplugs, and these weren’t made from silicone but a moldable clay mixture. Benner bought the business for two thousand dollars and gave it to his wife because she needed a challenge while he was playing with the symphonic orchestra. Out of that business, the biggest seller of silicone earplugs in the United States was born. Because Benner was an avid swimmer, he wanted to have plugs that could keep away as much water as possible, because regular plugs did not provide that protection. They seemed to do the trick, sold under the brand name Mack’s Pillow Soft moldable silicone earplugs. Their expanded line today features all types of moldable and previously molded foam and silicone earplugs.

Reusable silicone earplugs should be thoroughly cleaned before being used again. It is possible that the plugs, when re-molded at the next insertion, carry bacteria and fungus that are primed to cause an infection, possibly causing otitis externa. Most professional swimmers, therefore, use disposable ones, as an infection could have consequences causing missed training and a disrupted schedule.

When trying to avoid the exposure of ears and the ear canal to water and avoid getting an otitis externa infection at all costs, there is nothing better than silicone earplugs. At the workplace, you are protected by various legislation to help ensure your employer makes an effort to protect your hearing. For social activities, please ensure you take adequate care as ear damage is not reversible.

How is Swimmer’s Ear Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of this swimmer’s ear is made by thoroughly examining the ear. The doctor will use a special tool known as an otoscope to check the ear for any signs of infection like redness or discharge. Once diagnosed with otitis externa, the person will be put on antibiotics to treat the infection. There should be a noticeable improvement in the next one to three days. At some point between day seven and ten, the infection will disappear altogether. However, if the water keeps entering the ear, there is the possibility of the infection recurring. So, it is best to take the precautions as mentioned above to avoid getting water into the ear. Regardless of the cause, moisture and irritation will prolong the course of the problem.

Swimmers Ear Drops: The Best Treatment for the Infection

Ear drops are the best swimmer’s ear treatment, according to the first-ever recommendations on how to treat the common condition. Swimmer’s ear affects about one in every 100-250 Americans each year.

The guidelines recommend using ear drops to treat swimmer’s ear locally and say that oral antibiotics should not be used unless the infection has spread outside the ear canal, or if other symptoms call for oral antibiotics. Experts say antiseptic, and antibiotic ear drops are the preferred treatment for most cases of swimmer’s ear because they offer safe, prompt, and effective relief while not promoting antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Oral antibiotics are not recommended for initial treatment of swimmer’s ear because overuse of antibiotics can increase the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, are associated with more side effects, and may be less effective than ear drops. People with eardrum tubes or perforated eardrums should use one of the newer antibiotic ear drops that are approved for this purpose and do not cause hearing loss. Ear drops are only effective when used properly.

How To Use Swimmers Ear Drops

You should be informed by a healthcare provider on the proper use of ear drops. The ear should be clean and free from any obstructing debris such as ear wax. A wick should then be inserted into the ear usually so that the drops can get to the correct place as needed in the ear. This is especially important if the ear canal is swollen from the infection.

Ear candles are not a recommended option for helping with the treatment of swimmer’s ear. This is mostly due to the fact that they have never really been proven to be effective, plus can come with some dangerous side effects such as burns, or even a perforated eardrum. Patients should avoid water sports to 7 to 10 days during treatment.

How To Treat Swimmer’s Ear With Homemade Remedies

As we stated earlier, some common symptoms are redness of the ear, inflammation of the ear canal, severe pain when touched, itching, ringing noises, swollen lymph nodes, and fluid drainage. The hearing may also be affected temporarily in some people, others may experience a slight fever too.

There are many home remedies for swimmer’s ear that can ease the pain and help to cure the infection. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medicines are available to treat swimmer’s ear as well.

Some of these swimmer’s ear natural remedies include:

Heat compress: This is a very relieving swimmer’s ear home remedy. Take a hand towel and warm it against heat. Apply it on the affected area. Take care that the towel is not too hot.

Garlic Oil: Put a few drops of garlic oil in your ear and then drain. Include garlic in your diet too.

Vinegar: This is a common swimmer’s ear home remedy. Put a few drops of white vinegar in your ear and drain after a while. For example, put 2 to 4 drops of full strength vinegar into the ear every three hours. Vinegar contains antibacterial and antifungal properties.

Baby oil: Warm the baby oil and put a few drops in your ear.

Witch Hazel: This is a useful herb for swimmer’s ears. Dab cotton swab in witch hazel tea and dab this on the infected area gently. Witch hazel has anti-inflammatory properties.

Echinacea: This should be taken in appropriate doses for increasing immunity and fighting the bacteria.

Calendula Oil: This oil helps in fighting the infection and killing the bacteria. Apply this for a soothing relief.

Castor Oil: Warm the castor oil and apply a few drops into the ear.

Olive oil: Olive oil may also be warmed, applied to the ear, then drained out.

Ethyl alcohol: Ethyl alcohol not only kills germs, but it also helps the water trapped in the ear to evaporate.

Apple cider vinegar: Use apple cider vinegar as ear drops. This is an effective option as you can simply put in three or four drops after swimming or showering. This is a good precautionary measure against future infection. Apple cider vinegar contains antibacterial properties.

Garlic and olive oil: Heat the garlic and add five teaspoons of olive oil. Let it cool for about ten minutes and use it as ear drops. Similar to the vinegar, it also contains antibacterial properties.

The above swimmer’s ear treatments are great for creating homemade swimmer’s ear drops and will help you avoid the need to fork out your money on expensive swimmer’s ear medicine. Take care when using homemade ear drops that you use the correct ingredients and that you don’t use too much. Using a dropper can help you to avoid using too much. These natural remedies should only be used on mild cases of swimmer’s ear and not for chronic swimmer’s ear. If you’re worried about using homemade ear drops, always consult a doctor.

It is important to clean the ears before applying ear drops using baby oil, mineral oil, or hydrogen peroxide. Use of mineral oil, baby oil, or hydrogen peroxide to clean the ears will remove any blockages that may prevent the ear drops from fully entering the ear canal. Always apply drops with a proper ear dropper to avoid any complications or spillages.

Also, participating in natural breathing remedies can help with swimmer’s ear. Focusing on breathing and taking in enough breath can help ease the pain of swimmer’s ear and can shift the focus of ear pain onto the focus of breathing instead. Natural breathing remedies can be especially effective in shifting a child’s focus in particular.

Don’t Let Swimmer’s Ear Ruin Your Summer

There are so many preventative measures that can be taken to avoid swimmer’s ear, and we hope that the information we have given you in this article will help to prevent you from developing any ear infections this summer. However, if you do begin to have symptoms of swimmer’s ear, we have also highlighted some of the best treatments for both mild and more severe cases this type of bacterial infection. If you find that you are struggling to overcome the symptoms of swimmer’s ear, then it is always important to seek medical advice from a professional such as your doctor.