With spring and summer approaching, you might be more than ready to hit the lake for a relaxing swim. If you’ve ever had an outer ear infection, commonly called swimmer’s ear, you might be a little more hesitant— and rightly so. They can be painful, uncomfortable, and even require medical treatment. However, if you experience these regularly or have never had one, you can benefit from knowing what they are and how to prevent them.
What Causes It?
An outer ear infection is commonly caused by bacteria that enters the ear canal where the thin, protective skin has been broken by small scratches or rough treatment of the skin during cleaning. The moisture of the canal, combined with water that has a high bacterial content (common in lakes) provides the perfect habitat for bacteria to grow and create an infection within the canal. It can be further facilitated by removing the cerumen, or waxy substance, inside the canal that creates a water-tight, slightly-acidic environment to keep out harmful bacteria.
How Do I Prevent It?
Unfortunately, some people are more susceptible to ear infections than others (the most common are children, due to tight ear canals that can more easily trap water). However, steps can be taken to ensure bacteria can’t survive within the canal and cause a painful infection. The foremost preventative measures are ensuring your ear canal maintains its natural defenses— namely, be sure not to clean the inside of the canal or remove the protective waxy lining, and also be sure not to break or irritate the inner skin through inserting outside objects too far. Also, some things like hair products or jewelry can also irritate the skin if you are allergic to certain things.
Avoiding swimming in water that has a high bacterial content is a great way to avoid infections, but that might not always be an option. After swimming, be sure to thoroughly dry the ears. Certain disinfecting ear drops can help prevent bacterial growth as well— our ENT specialists can help you find the right one for you.
What Are My Treatment Options?
Ear drops are the most common type of treatment, but this can depend on the severity. You should promptly see a specialist if you’re experiencing even mild symptoms of an infection, as more permanent and dangerous complications can occur if left untreated. Chronic infections can do great damage to the surrounding area, and you should always listen to your body for signs that something is wrong.
If you are experiencing or are prone to experiencing ear infections and would like to discuss treatment, contact our office to schedule an appointment.