Swimmer's ear, also known as otitis externa, is a medical condition characterized by infection within the ear canal. This portion of the ear is the tubular part responsible for carrying sounds from the outside of the body to the eardrum. Swimmer's ear most commonly affects children who spend a great deal of time in the water. This is because the moisture can cause some of the skin in the canal to break down, creating the ideal place for bacteria or fungi to grow. Since swimmer's ear results from spending time in the water, the majority of cases occur in the summer or in areas with consistently warm climates.
Despite its name, swimmer's ear is not an infection solely restricted to those who spend time in the water. In fact, any break in the skin makes it possible for bacteria and fungi to grow. Therefore, simply scratching the ear canal can result in swimmer's ear, as can being overly zealous in ear cleaning, inserting foreign objects in the ear, and skin conditions such as eczema. A person with a middle ear infection may also develop swimmer's ear. This is because the puss in the middle ear can drain into the ear canal and irritate the skin, creating a break in the skin.
Sufferers of swimmer's ear feel severe pain, which worsens when any part of the exterior ear is pulled on or pressed. The ear may also become itchy. In some cases, chewing may also be painful.
In order to prevent swimmer's ear, take care when cleaning so you do not scratch the ear canal. You should also never scratch your ear with objects such as a pen cap or a bobby pin. In addition, take care to keep the ear canal dry at all times.
To help keep your ear canal dry, purchase over-the-counter drops of acetic acid or alcohol and place a few drops in your ears after swimming. In a diluted solution, these drops help dry out the ear and prevent swimmer's ear from developing. These drops should not be used with children who have eardrops or a hole in their eardrums. Gently drying the ears with a towel after swimming is also beneficial.