Also known as Otitis externa, Swimmer’s Ear is an infection in the canal between the outer ear and the eardrum. It occurs when water containing bacteria is left in the ear after swimming or bathing.
- Slight irritation in the ear
- Redness in the ear canal
- Some physical pressure or discomfort
- Colorless discharge
- Visible redness on the outside of the ear
- Increased irritation or itchiness
- Colored discharge
- Pain in the ear
- Muffled hearing
- Profound redness around the ear
- Swelling in the ear, neck and lymph glands
- Severe ear pain
- Excessive discharge
- Completely blocked hearing
How Swimmer’s Ear Affects Hearing
Swimmer’s ear is very common, but it can be quite painful. The moist, dark environment of your ear canal is the perfect place for germs to grow and create an infection under the skin.
Infections cause inflammation, damaging the hair cells in your ear that send audio signals to your brain for sound interpretation. Those hair cells cannot be regrown or repaired once they’re damaged, causing irreversible hearing loss.
Repeated infections may also damage your auditory nerve and create permanent hearing loss. Swelling in the ear and discharge cause conductive hearing loss, which will cease once the infection is treated.
Preventing Swimmer’s Ear
Wear ear protection: Earplugs and swimming caps prevent water from entering your ear canal. That’s especially important if you’re swimming in water prone to bacterial growth, like oceans, rivers and lakes.
Dry your ears: Tilt your head to each side to drain the water from your ear canals. Use a towel or soft cloth to absorb moisture from your outer ear and canal after you’re done swimming or bathing. You should never put cotton swabs or other objects in your ears to dry them.
Use a hairdryer: Place a hairdryer on a cool setting and hold it several inches away from your ear to evaporate any remaining moisture in your ears.
Try eardrops: Different kinds of over-the-counter eardrops are designed to clear moisture from your ears. You can also mix a drop of vinegar with a drop of rubbing alcohol to create a drying agent, but check with your doctor before you try any at-home remedies.
Monitor your cerumen: Too much earwax can trap moisture, germs and bacteria. Allow warm water to run through your ear canal while you’re bathing to help your ears naturally expel old earwax. Your doctor or audiologist can also safely remove excess buildup.