For what seems to be a minor health problem, swimmer’s ear results in nearly 2.4 million doctor visits annually and costs our health care system $500 million a year. Swimmer’s ear is an inflammation of the ear canal, resulting from water entering the ear through swimming or bathing. This wet environment in the ear canal allows germs to multiply, thus leading to the painful infection. Warm temperatures, high humidity and more time spent in the water increase one’s risk of acquiring swimmer’s ear. That’s why this malady peaks during the summer swimming season, occurring more frequently in the months of June, July and August. Symptoms of swimmer’s ear include pain, tenderness, redness and swelling of the ear canal. Occasionally, there is a discharge from the ear. Though it’s a very painful condition, swimmer’s ear will almost always clear up completely, leaving no long-term pain or hearing loss. This infection is treated with a course of antibiotic ear drops for about a week. These are my recommendations to prevent swimmer’s ear:
- Avoid cleaning the ear with cotton swabs, which can cause micro trauma to the ear canal, thus making it more susceptible to infection.
- Dry the ears as thoroughly as possible after water exposure.
- Commercial ear drops, available from pharmacies, can be bought to use in the ear after swimming to help prevent infection. As an alternative, a homemade solution can be used in place of the commercial one, by mixing equal parts rubbing alcohol and white vinegar and placing several drops in the ear canal after water exposure. The alcohol helps dry the ear, and the vinegar helps keep germs from growing. Those with ear tubes or a possible hole in the ear drum should not put any type of drops in their ears.
Have a safe and enjoyable summer.