Swimmer’s Ear: Causes, Symptoms, Complications, Risk Factors
Hearing loss brought about by swimmer’s ear could be temporary or permanent depending on how long it takes for treatment to take effect.
Swimmer’s ear, also known as otitis externa, is a condition that can be caused by various activities including swimming, bathing, and cleaning. It occurs when water enters the canal of your ear, and it causes pain in the ears and hearing loss. Common symptoms of swimmer’s ear include itching around the outer part of the ear canal or redness inside the ear.
Causes of Swimmer’s Ear
The primary cause of swimmer’s ear is the introduction of water into the outer ear canal. This could happen from swimming or bathing in contaminated water or cleaning out an external auditory canal with a Q-tip.
If you already have an infection on your skin, then using dirty hands while touching that area can also lead to this condition due to bacteria being introduced into the ears.
Bacteria can enter the ears through cracks at the opening of the ear canal.
Conditions that can weaken the defenses of the ears and promote bacterial growth include:
• Wet ear canals from prolonged water exposure, like surfing or swimming.
• Heavy perspiration may also settle inside the ears may also create a favorable environment for bacteria.
• Scratches or abrasions in the ear canal. “Cleaning” the ears with a cotton swab or Q-tip makes your ears prone to small breaks or abrasions. These can actually cause small breaks in the skin, providing entrance for bacteria.
Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear
Swimmer’s ear symptoms can be mild or severe, depending on the type of infection.
Signs that could signify progress from mild to moderate swimmer’s ear include a worsening pain level; changes in hearing, such as decreased ability to hear high-pitched sounds; and increased swelling around the ears.
Swimmer’s Ear Risk Factors
The most common risk factors for developing this condition include poor hygiene practices surrounding water exposure, excessive moisture due to sweating or humidity, overuse of cotton swabs.
Complications of Swimmer’s Ear
The most common complication is the ear canal becoming infected.
Other complications include hearing loss, pus draining from the ear and a sensation that something is lodged in the ear.
Hearing loss brought about by swimmer’s ear could be temporary or permanent depending on how long it takes for treatment to take effect. Hearing may gradually return after a few days but this depends on severity and duration of symptoms as well as other factors such as age and general health conditions.
Long-term infection (chronic otitis externa) – If left untreated, swimmer’s ear may progress into chronic otitis externa.
With this condition, thick and dry skin may build up inside the ear canal. This could result in a narrow ear canal, also known as stenosis, a condition which can affect hearing and may even cause deafness.
Bone and cartilage damage (early skull base osteomyelitis) – While this is a rare complication of swimmer’s ear, it is quite serious and needs to be prevented as much as possible.
This condition makes the infection spread to the cartilage of the outer ear and bones of the lower skull. A person with skull base osteomyelitis may feel pain that progresses as the condition worsens.
When to see a doctor
Seek medical attention for mild signs and symptoms of swimmer’s ear. If there is severe pain, trouble hearing or fever that comes along with other symptoms of swimmer’s ear, go to the emergency room for immediate treatment.
This is a serious situation and could lead to permanent hearing loss if not treated quickly.
Treatment of Swimmer’s Ear
Although mild cases of swimmer’s ear can usually be treated with eardrops, a visit to an audiologist is also encouraged to prevent complications and more-serious infections to develop.
Swimmer’s Ear Treatment MA
Swimmer’s ear is a common and easy-to-cure ear problem. However, if left untreated, it can bring along a lot of complications that are far from pleasant.
If you experience swimmer’s ear symptoms, consult with an audiologist right away. If you’re in Massachusetts, Atlantic Hearing Care offers comprehensive hearing health services. Call us today to schedule a consultation!