If you or your child are prone to swimmer’s ear infections, often times August is the month it will rear its painful head. As summer progresses, bacteria multiplies in lakes, and if you are doing a lot of lake swimming, t is not uncommon to experience swimmer’s ear.
Here at AFC Urgent Care Urgent Care Stamford we see parents bringing their children in with ear aches this time of year, often not knowing if their child is experiencing a middle ear infection or swimmer’s ear.
Symptoms often overlap and it can be hard to tell.
Is it a middle ear infection or swimmer’s ear?
A middle ear infection is usually preceded by a cold or an upper respiratory infection. They can be bacterial or they can be viral.
What is swimmer’s ear?
Swimmer’s ear is a bacterial infection of the outer ear, sometimes referred to as an outer ear infection, that forms in the tube that connects the opening of the ear to the eardrum.
These outer ear infections sometimes result from exposure to moisture. They are common in children and young adults who spend a lot of time swimming. Swimmer’s ear results in nearly 2.4 million healthcare visits annually in the U.S (CDC)
Swimmer’s ear Symptoms:
Swimmer’s ear can vary in its severity:
Mild symptoms often include itching, mild pain from pulling or pushing on the outer ear, a slight redness inside the ear.
There can also be drainage of a clear odorless fluid from the ear, and often times the feeling that the ear is clogged.
Moderate symptoms can include more intense itching, increasing pain, more extensive redness and/or pus/drainage, and occasionally a decrease in hearing.
Severe swimmer’s ear symptoms often include swelling of the ear, pain extending into the neck, a high fever, tender lymph nodes, and possibly a thicker discharge with an odor. For these severe swimmers ear symptoms you should visit an ER.
Treatment for Swimmer’s Ear
Before you begin treatment, your physician may need to clear away any discharge or debris that has collected in the ear. This procedure is done using suction or an ear curette, which has a scoop on the end, carefully, as the ear is very often tender.
For the majority of swimmer’s ear cases, treatment begins with antibiotic eardrops intended to cure the infection. If your ear is very swollen, your doctor may have to insert a cotton or gauze wick (tube) into your ear to allow the eardrops to travel into the ear canal.
Antibiotic eardrops are typically used for 7-10 days depending on the age of the patient. It is important to finish the complete course of eardrops, even if the pain and symptoms subside before the end of the course.
Additional treatments for chronic swimmer’s ear may include:
• corticosteroids to lessen inflammation
• vinegar and alcohol eardrops to help restore your ear’s normal bacterial balance
• antifungal eardrops for infections caused by fungi
• acetaminophen or ibuprofen for relief of pain or other discomfort
You can modify treatment by including oral antibiotics, especially if eardrops haven’t succeeded in the past.
While treating swimmer’s ear, you will achieve the best results if you:
• avoid swimming
• avoid flying
• avoid getting the inside of your ears wet while bathing
• do not put anything in your ears, including headphones, Q-Tips or ear plugs, until your symptoms have subsided
Preventing swimmer’s ear:
Don’t let swimmer’s ear ruin your summer. If your child is taking swim lessons or swimming on a daily basis it can be challenging to avoid swimmer’s ear, especially if they are prone to chronic swimmer’s ear, but there are a few preventative tips you can use to try and avoid swimmer’s ear.
- try to avoid swimming in waters with high bacteria counts, especially later in the season in the northeast
- do not put any sharp objects deep in to the ear canal, including Q-tips to dry the ear after swimming or bathing, even if there is itching.
- do not use ear plugs, especially for an extended period of time. They breed bacteria
- when coming out of the water dry ears and get rid of any water by tilting head ( it can sometimes help to hop up and down). Make a game of it with your child
Home remedies for swimmer’s ear:
The most common home remedy is mixing 1 part white vinegar and 1 part alcohol to help keep the ear canal clean. We recommend only using this once you are sure that your ear drum is intact and not ruptured.
Heat applied to the outside of the ear can help soothe the pain, at home. Using heating pad at a low setting or a warm dry towel can provide some relief.
Acetaminophen or Ibuprofin can provide relief as well
If you or a family member is experiencing any of these symptoms visit us here at AFC Urgent Care Urgent Care Stamford at 3000 Summer Street.
We are open 7 days a week, no appointment necessary.
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