Protect your ears when you hit the water this summer

CLEWISTON — The external ear is the site of many infections and inflammatory conditions. One of which causes a frequent troublesome malady called swimmer’s ear or diffuse external otitis. Swimmer’s ear usually occurs in the summer and can present symptoms within 24 to 48 hours after swimming.

During the early stages of swimmer’s ear, patients experience tenderness of the auricle or ear and later can develop into pain. They may also note a purulent or yellow discharge from the ear. On examination, erythema or redness and swelling of the ear canal are noted. A decrease in hearing can also be evident. If an adult or child experiences pain, discharge, and diminished hearing in an ear, they should seek immediate medical attention for a complete evaluation.

Careful cleaning of the ear canal removes debris and helps eradicate bacteria. Any time the external auditory canal is cleaned and cerumen is removed, the canal does become more vulnerable to infection. Children and adults who frequently get their ear canals wet swimming are encouraged to dry them promptly.

Medical treatments range from irrigating the ear with an antiseptic solution to remove pathogenic bacteria. Antibiotic drops, and depending on the severity of the infection, oral antibiotics can also be prescribed by physicians. If the ear canal is very swollen, then a small ear wick or pack is placed in the ear canal by the physician. This wick is usually removed in 24 to 48 hours.

Preventative measures are important to review. Patients are encouraged not to place any object or instrument in their ear canal, even the use of cotton tipped applicators are not advised. These instruments can push debris closer to the ear drum and further injure the canal skin. Any manipulation of the skin of the external auditory canal (such as scratching or overzealous cleaning) should be avoided.

Here are some suggested tips to keep in mind for the next few months in order to avoid wet ears:

• Dry ears thoroughly after swimming.

• Some home remedies that have been used for keeping the ear dry and bacteria free include: Hydrogen peroxide and white vinegar

• Use a hair dryer on low to blow warm air at the entrance of ear canals until ears are dry.

• Use over-the-counter or custom-molded ear plugs to block water from entering ear canals.

• Use a swimmer’s cap pulled down over the ears to block splashed water in ears.

• Limit underwater swimming, especially in open, untreated water.

• Rinse ear canals with clean water after swimming in lakes and rivers, especially if water is polluted.

• Never swim underwater or allow water in ears with eardrum perforations or pressure equalization tubes placed in the tympanic membrane by an Otolaryngologist/Ear, Nose & throat physician)

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Livingston, HRMC audiologist, call 863-902-3049.

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