Outer ear infection (swimmer’s ear) and what you can do
|Bret Haymore, MD FAAAAI, FACAAI
Board Certified Allergist
About the author: Dr. Bret Haymore is an allergist-immunologist in Midwest City, Oklahoma and is affiliated with multiple hospitals in the area, including Hillcrest Medical Center and Integris Baptist Medical Center. He received his medical degree from Penn State College of Medicine and has been in practice for 12 years. He is one of 7 doctors at Hillcrest Medical Center and one of 3 at Integris Baptist Medical Center who specialize in Allergy & Immunology.
What it is: An outer ear infection is a condition that can cause pain in the ear canal. An outer ear infection is sometimes called “swimmer’s ear.” But an outer ear infection does not happen only in people who swim. People who do not swim can also get it.
What causes it: When the skin in the ear canal gets irritated or scratched, and then gets infected.
Some examples of what can cause this to happen:
– Putting cotton swabs, fingers, or other things inside the ear
– Cleaning the ear canal to remove ear wax
– Swimming on a regular basis. Water can soften the ear canal, which allows germs to infect the skin more easily.
– Wearing hearing aids, headphones, or ear plugs that can hurt the skin inside the ear
What are the symptoms:
– Pain inside the ear, especially when the ear is pulled or moved
– Itching inside the ear
– Fluid or pus leaking from the ear
– Trouble hearing
How it is treated:
– Ear drops – Be sure to finish all the medicine, even if you feel better after a few days.
– Medicines to relieve pain
When you use ear drops, you should:
– Lie on your side or tilt your head.
– Make sure the ear drops go into the ear canal.
– Stay in the same position for 20 minutes (after the ear drops are in)
It is important to keep the inside of your ear dry while the infection heals. You should not swim for 7-10 days after starting treatment. But you can take a shower. To keep the ear dry during a shower, put some petroleum jelly (e.g. Vaseline) on a cotton ball, and then put the cotton ball in your outer ear, covering the opening of your ear canal. Do not push the cotton ball into the ear canal.
You should also avoid wearing hearing aids or headphones in the infected ear until your symptoms improve.
Call your doctor or nurse if:
– Your symptoms get worse
– Your symptoms are not better 2 days after starting treatment
Can I prevent it? You can reduce your chances of getting an outer ear infection by:
– Not sticking things in your ears or cleaning inside your ears – The inside of the ears do not usually need to be cleaned. It is normal to have some ear wax in your ears. Ear wax protects the ear canal. But if you are worried that you have too much ear wax, talk to your doctor or nurse.
Following these tips if you swim a lot:
– Shake your ears dry after you swim
– Blow dry your ears on a low setting, holding the dryer 12 inches away.
– Use ear drops that can prevent infections after you swim; these are available without a prescription
– Wear ear plugs made for swimming to prevent water from getting in your ears.