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How To Prevent Swimmers Ear

First of all I make no excuses for including a page about swimmers ear on this site as we all want to stay happy and healthy and I hope that by reading this information you will have the knowledge to prevent these 'nasties' from occuring. I admit that until this year I had no knowledge of this distressing complaint until my husband started suffering with it, further. If we had known about it then we might have been able to prevent it. While I have no medical knowledge, I have researched the subject and hope it is helpful to you.

So what is swimmers ear, or to give it its medical term - External Otitis?

The medical dictionary says it is' an infection of the skin covering the outer ear and ear canal. Acute external otitis is commonly a bacterial infection caused by streptococcus staphylococcus, or pseudomonas types of bacteria.

The swimmer's ear infection us usually caused by excessive water exposure ( this was definatly the situation in my husbands case, as he, in this years very hot summer here in Cyprus, kept plunging in and out of the pool to cool off while working in the garden.) When water collects in the ear canal (frequently trapped by wax), the skin will become soggy and serve as an inviting culture media for bacteria. Cuts or abrasions in the lining of the ear canal (for example, from a cotton swab injury) can aslo predispose to bacterial infection in the ear canal.

What are the symptoms of swimmers ear?

The first symptom of infection is that the ear may feel full and it may itch. Next, the ear canal will swell and ear drainage will follow. At this stage the ear will be very painful, especially the outside portion of the ear. The ear canal can swell shut and the side of the face can become swollen. Finally the glands of the neck may enlarge, making it difficult or painful to open the jaw, it may also affect hearing in the infected ear.

What is the treatment for swimmers ear?

Regardless of the cause, irritation and moisture will prolong the course of the infection, so the ear should be kept dry. While showering or swimming use an ear plug ( one that is designed to keep water out), or use cotton with vaseline on the outside. Do not use cotton buds as this will cause further irritation. A hearing aid should be left out as much as possible until swelling and discharge stops.

The most common treatment consists of ear drops containing antibiotics with corticosteroids to reduce inflamation. Oral antibiotic may also be needed in some cases. These should be used as directed. In some cases a "wick" may be placed in the ear to keep the canal open and serve as a stent to transfer the ear drops.

How can swimmers ear be prevented?

1. Decrease exposure to water. If you are prone to ear infections it is best if you use an ear plug when you swim or bathe. You can buy swimmer's ear drops or alcohol drops to use after exposure to water followed by drying the ear with a hair dryer held at arms length to help keep the ear free from moisture.

2. Do not use cotton swabs or anything else in the ear which may scratch the lining of the ear.

3. Try to keep the ear free of wax. This may require visits to the doctor to have your ears cleaned.

4. If you already have an ear infection, or have a hole in your eardrum, or if you have had ear surgery first consult your doctor prior to swimming before using any kind of ear drop.

5. A preventative ear drop solution can be made by mixing equal parts of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar(50:50 mixture) This solution will increase the rate of evaporation of water in the ear canal and has anti-bacterial properties. This solution can be used to rinse the ear, as a preventative measure before and after exposure to water.

6. Mineral oil ear drops can be used to protect the ear from water when a dry crusty skin condition exists.

This page is for information only and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult a medical practitioner for expert help.

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