Swimmer’s Ear (Otitis Externa)

Swimmer’s Ear (Otitis Externa)

Swimmer’s ear refers to an infection of the outer ear canal, a passage that runs from the outside of the ear to the eardrum. After a thorough evaluation, our physician will recommend the most adequate treatment to get your child up and running in no time.

What is swimmer’s ear?

As the name suggests, the condition is prevalent in children who spend a lot of time in water. Exposing the sensitive skin within the ear to excessive moisture will eventually irritate and break down the skin, thus allowing bacteria and fungi to settle in.

While otitis externa frequently develops during summertime, take note that it can also occur all year round due to an eczema or excessive dry skin. In addition, vigorous cleaning the ear canal with cotton-tipped applicators and the installation of foreign objects, such as hearing aids, has been reported to damage the skin in that region.

What are the symptoms of swimmer’s ear?

In most cases, the condition initially manifests mildly, meaning the child experiences itching, moderate discomfort, slight redness inside the ear and minor drainage. However, if the condition is not treated, the infection will spread and the symptoms aggravate. The moderate to severe symptoms associated with otitis externa include:

  • Pain that radiates to the face, neck and side of the head
  • Redness and severe itching of the outer ear
  • Swelling of the outer ear and of the lymph nodes in the neck
  • Extreme drainage and discharge of pus
  • Partial loss of hearing
  • Fever

How is the diagnosis established?

In the initial phase, the condition can be diagnosed following on a thorough examination of the ear canal and the eardrum. However, if the infection is in an advanced stage or persists, further testing might be necessary to determine the extension of the infection.

The investigation has the role of determining the precise location of the infection, as some treatments for outer ear infections are not suitable for middle ear. In the event that the infection doesn’t respond to the treatment, the physician will have to take a sample and identify the bacteria or fungi causing the infection.

How is swimmer’s ear treated?

In most cases, the treatment for otitis externa starts with a careful cleaning of the ear canal, which is necessary in order to allow the medication to reach the infected area. Cleaning in this case entails using an ear curette or a suction device to remove discharge, earwax, flaky skin and other fragments from the canal.

If the infection is severe, the physician may use a cotton wick to promote drainage. Following cleaning, the doctor will prescribe eardrops and possibly, pain medication when the child experiences too much discomfort. Oral antibiotics are used very uncommonly.

If your child complains about itching and pain in the ear, particularly if he or she spends a lot of time at the swimming pool, then swimmer’s ear might be the underlying cause. If you suspect it is a case of otitis externa, then don’t hesitate to contact ENT for Children right away. Keep in mind that the longer you leave the infection untreated, the more aggravating symptoms your child will experience.