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ENT Answers: Preventing Swimmer's Ear

Ear, nose and throat specialist Dr. James Chow of Midwest ENT answers the most-asked questions from patients like you.

In the summer, Midwest ENT and other specialists see an increased number of swimmer's ear in the Tri-Cities. Here are some commonly asked questions and the expert's answers.

Q. What exactly is swimmer’s ear?
A. Swimmer's ear is an infection of the outer ear canal (from the outer opening of the ear extending down to the ear drum).

Q. What causes swimmer’s ear?
A. Swimmer’s ear is caused by excessive moisture in the canal, which serves as a good environment for bacteria growth. It can also be caused by trauma to the external auditory canal through use of Q-tips, hair pins, etc., creating an entry point for bacteria to start the infection.
 
Q. Who is most likely to get it?
A. People who swim often – especially in lakes where the water has not been treated – are more vulnerable to getting swimmer’s ear. Other factors that make individuals more susceptible to the infection include:

  • Failing to remove water that gets stuck inside the ear after swimming
  • Sticking things into your ears
  • Perspiration, which creates moisture in the ear canal
  • Environments, from humid to dirty or dusty
  • Having an impaired immune status, such as diabetes
  • An allergy to jewelry, such as nickel

Q. What are some signs and symptoms that someone has the infection?
A. Some of the symptoms of swimmer’s ear include itching, ear pain, redness of the ear, pain when touching the ear, blockage or decreased hearing or drainage from the ear. Other signs of infection are redness of the ear canal at its opening, swelling of the ear canal, drainage from the ear and fever.

Q. How is swimmer’s ear treated?
A. Swimmer's ear is usually treated with ear drops. Occasionally, antibiotics are needed, especially if the infection has spread to surrounding tissue.

Q. What are some tips for preventing swimmer’s ear?
A. Here are some simple ways to avoid swimmer’s ear:

  • Avoid putting anything smaller than your elbow in your ear.
  • Be sure to get all of the water out of your ears after swimming by tilting your head over.

Use ear drops. Create a mixture of alcohol and vinegar (half and half), and drop the mixture into your ear after swimming. This will help to dry out the ear and sterilize the ear canal.

About this week’s ENT Answers doctor: James Chow, MD

Dr. James Chow joined Midwest ENT in 2005. He has devoted his professional life to finding relief for sinus sufferers and is well founded in the fundamentals of sinus anatomy, physiology, and surgery. Dr. Chow has continually received additional training and certification in the areas of Otolaryngology. From medical school to the present, he has continued the pursuit of excellence in sinus care with an emphasis on nasal and sinus disease.

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