Swimmer’s ear is a common outer ear infection, particularly in the summer months when people take advantage of the good weather to swim in outdoor swimming pools. However it’s important to remember that swimmer’s ear is not a condition restricted solely to swimmers.

Here, audiologist Claire Marshall explains the warning signs of swimmer’s ear and how it can be diagnosed and treated.

What is swimmer’s ear?

When you get swimmer’s ear (also known as otitis externa), the external ear canal (the tube between the outer ear and eardrum) becomes inflamed due to bacteria or fungi entering the ear and infecting the delicate skin. Redness and swelling are the first tell-tale signs of swimmer’s ear. The condition is known as swimmer’s ear because prolonged or repeated exposure to any water can leave the ear canal vulnerable to inflammation, especially if the water contains bacteria or organisms.

When it comes to swimmer’s ear, prevention is better than cure, so making sure you thoroughly dry your ears after coming into contact with water will prevent any residual moisture being left in the ear canal, which provides an ideal breeding ground for bacteria to thrive.  However, if you do succumb to swimmer’s ear, the earlier it’s treated the better.

Symptoms of swimmer’s ear

The early symptoms of swimmer’s ear include the following:

  • Inflamed ear canal
  • Itching in the ear canal
  • Mild discomfort or pain in the ear
  • Redness in the inside of the ear
  • Clear discharge from the ear

At this stage, treatment with antibiotic ear drops should clear the problem up in as little as 24-48 hours.  However, if the infection goes untreated, the inflammation will worsen and symptoms can include pus leaking from your ear, noise sounding muffled or even temporary hearing loss if the ear canal becomes so swollen that it closes.

Diagnosing swimmer’s ear

Anyone can suffer from swimmer’s ear; however, you are more likely to contract it if you fall into any of the following categories:

  • You suffer from a skin condition such as eczema, psoriasis or dermatitis.
  • You have a narrow ear canal.
  • You swim frequently.

Unfortunately, swimmer’s ear is a condition with a tendency to recur, especially when you are feeling run down or stressed. However, again, it’s important to remember that anyone can suffer from swimmer’s ear so if you notice any of the symptoms above, it’s important to act as soon as possible.

Specialist treatment for swimmer’s ear

If you suspect you or one of your family is suffering from swimmer’s ear, the expert audiologists at the Hearing Centre can diagnose you and provide the most appropriate treatment.  The good news is that in the vast majority of cases, swimmer’s ear is easily treatable with a course of antibiotic ear drops, although in more severe cases, a course of antibiotics to be administered by mouth may be more appropriate.  If you are a keen swimmer, we can advise on the best specialist swimming earplugs to protect you from ear infections.

Call us to arrange an appointment at our Leicester clinic on 0116 254 3909 or send us an email at [email protected].