“Ow! My ear hurts.” I heard that four times last week. It is swimming season here in Wichita and swimmers ear and pools go hand-in-hand. The story is usually. . . one-sided ear pain, tender-to-touch ear, hurts to chew AND recent exposure to water.
When water gets inside the ear canal and can’t get out it’s like when you were a kid and had your cast cut off. The skin under the cast that got wet STAYED wet. That skin becomes macerated and weeps (just like swimmer’s ear stays wet). Ick! Uniquely, the dermis comes into contact with the periosteum (bone) –thus, minimal inflammation in the ear causes significant pain.
Some people are more prone to otitis externa with frequent water exposure, inability to clear the water from their ears, or mishapen/tortuous ear canals. (One example of misshapen ears are “cauliflower ears” of wrestlers who bruise their ear after having it mashed into the mat.) Protectively, ear wax helps create an acidic environment in the ear which fights bacteria and fungal growth.
Your doctor may perform an ”aural toilet” (ear wash) to help clear out bacterial overgrowth or place an ear wick. Antibiotic drops with steroid help the ear canal tissue be less inflamed, hurt less, and fight the infection.
To decrease your risk of swimmer’s ear. . .
- Stop scratching the inside of your ear
- Do not excessively clean wax out of ears
- Beware of devices that block the ear: hearing aids, headphones or diving caps.
- Instill rubbing alcohol and vinegar in the ears or gently blow dry ears after swimming
The ears are self-cleaning (kinda like my oven). The old adage “Don’t put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear” is right!