Whether you’re a regular or occasional swimmer, you have probably experienced your ears being clogged with water after a dip in the ocean or swimming pool. Often known as swimmer’s ear, this condition can cause both short-term and long-term hearing loss.
Swimmer’s ear, or acute otitis externa, is a medical condition that affects the outer ear canal. It is often brought on by water that remains in your ear after swimming, which then creates a moist environment that perfectly aids bacterial growth.
It can develop after spending time in any body of water, but due to higher levels of bacteria it is especially common in untreated water such as lakes, rivers, oceans or hot tubs. The condition can even occur in swimming pools, showers, baths and any other places with moisture.
While swimmer’s ear is usually harmless and can be easily treated with ear drops, if left untreated it can have serious consequences for the health of your long-term hearing.
What are the symptoms of swimmer’s ear?
Swimmer’s ear symptoms are often mild at first, but they may get progressively worse if your infection is not treated. The condition is often classified by mild, moderate and advanced stages, which all have progressive symptoms.
Mild signs and symptoms include:
- Itching in your ear canal.
- Slight redness inside your ear.
- Mild discomfort that's made worse by pulling on your outer ear or pushing on the little "bump" (tragus) in front of your ear.
- Some drainage of clear, odorless fluid.
Moderate symptoms include:
- More intense itching.
- Increasing pain.
- More extensive redness in your ear.
- Excessive fluid drainage.
- Discharge of pus.
- Feeling of fullness inside your ear and partial blockage of your ear canal by swelling, fluid and debris.
- Decreased or muffled hearing.
Advanced symptoms include:
- Severe pain that may radiate to your face, neck or side of your head.
- Complete blockage of your ear canal.
- Redness or swelling of your outer ear.
- Swelling in the lymph nodes in your neck.
When the condition spreads, it can do damage to more than just the ear. Many people with swimmer’s ear experience pain and pressure, redness of the skin, fever, swollen lymph nodes and pus or fluid drainage.
In fact, in more serious cases, both temporary or permanent hearing loss can occur if the infection spreads to the brain or the base of the skull. Hearing nerve cells cannot regenerate, meaning once they are damaged a part of your hearing is lost forever.
For this reason, it important to consult a professional as soon as you notice any ear-related symptoms.
Preventing swimmer’s ear and hearing loss
If you are a keen swimmer, there are many methods you can take to prevent swimmer's ear. These include drying your ears after swimming, avoid cleaning your ears with pointy or sharp objects such as cotton swabs, and avoiding stagnant areas if you are to swim in untreated waters.
You can also prevent swimmer’s ear by wearing specialist swimming protection for your ears, such as earplugs or custom-moulded ear protection to block water from enter the ear canal. Hearing professionals will be able to recommend the best products for your specific needs.
How can a professional help?
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above it’s essential you get the help of a professional as soon as possible.
A professional hearing clinic, such as York Hearing Clinic, will examine your ear and will likely prescribe an antibiotic or antifungal ear drop to cure the condition. With treatment, swimmer’s ear commonly disappears in less than 14 days.
If the damage done is more permanent, a qualified professional from York Hearing will help you to determine the severity of your hearing loss and create a solution that best works for your lifestyle.
Want more information? Contact us today.