Summer’s coming, which means cooling off by taking a swim.  Swimming is great exercise for people of all ages and fitness level, but more time spent in the water means an increase in the chance of developing swimmer’s ear, an inflammation of the external ear canal.  Swimmer’s ear, also known as acute otitis externa, is not serious but it can be very painful, particularly for children.  It usually occurs when bacteria accumulates in water trapped in the ear after swimming, and causes pain, tenderness and swelling of the canal.

Anyone can develop swimmer’s ear, but it is most commonly seen in children between the ages of 5 and 14.  Approximately 10 percent of Americans will be treated for swimmer’s ear every year; not surprisingly the peak months are June, July and August.  The standard treatment for swimmer’s ear is antibiotic eardrops, though it’s not uncommon for reinfection to occur.

It should go without saying that the best way to avoid swimmer’s ear is to keep water from getting in the ears.  When possible, wear ear plugs or a swim cap to block out water.  After swimming, dry your ears thoroughly, and try to run excess water out of them by tilting your head from side to side (do not insert objects in the ear, such as Q-Tips, to do this, let the water run out on its own).  Some doctors recommend gently pouring a mixture of equal parts rubbing alcohol and white vinegar into the ears, as the alcohol will dry excess water and the vinegar will neutralize any accumulated bacteria, however, this should not be done if an ear infection is already present or if you have ear ventilating tubes.

Fear of swimmer’s ear shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying a dip in a pool or in the ocean, but keep the water where it belongs—not in your ears!

Gena Radcliffe

Medex Supply Blogger

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