Swimmer’s ear diagnoses increase as summer begins

Summertime and swimming go hand-in-hand, and that unfortunately brings on a common reason for patients to see ear, nose, and throat doctors like Brad Lebert.

“We really do see a peak in it in the summertime as people are heading to the pools, the lakes, and the waterways,” Lebert said. “The warmer the weather, the higher instances we see of this particular problem.”

Unlike an infection of the middle ear, Dr. Lebert said swimmer’s ear happens when bacteria grow in the ear canal.

“When water gets here it either gets stuck around wax or just irritates the ear canal,” Lebert said. “The ear canal swells, and that’s when you start to get small cracks in the tissue, that serve as a harbor for infection, which is what leads to outer infections, or swimmer’s ear.”

Swimmer’s ear can start out with mild symptoms, but quickly escalate to pain, itching, redness, and drainage.

“Usually if the drainage persists for more than a day, or the child complains for more than a day, or you start to see some swelling of the ear canal itself is when we really start thinking it’s time to seek medical attention,” Lebert said.

Over the counter swimmer’s ear drops can help treat the infection by acidifying the ear and killing the bacteria, but in some cases, Dr. Lebert said prescription eardrops are needed.

“There’s also several prescriptions or eardrops that are prescribed that can be treated with antibiotics as well as a steroid to help calm this down much quicker,” he said.

Preventing swimmer’s ear starts with keeping the outer ear dry.

Dr. Lebert said a half and half solution of one part vinegar and one part rubbing alcohol can be put into the ear, to help dry it out.

A hairdryer can also be used on the low setting, about 12 inches from the ear.

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