Beware Swimmer’s Ear

Everyone is itching to get out and do something. And swimming is one of the best ways to get some exercise, even though public pools may not be an option due to COVID-19.

But that itch to get in the water can lead to the nasty itch of swimmer’s ear, so take some precautions. And FYI, you don’t need to go swimming to get swimmer’s ear.

Swimmer’s ear is just the generic name for an outer ear infection (otitis externa). It’s when bacteria works its way into the skin lining the ear canal. Two things make this likely to happen. Abrasions in the skin that are often caused by overly aggressive cleaning of the ear (i.e., vigorously rubbing a Q-tip in there) and ears getting water-logged.

Put the two together with a wide range of common bacteria and the next thing you know your ear (or ears) itch and pushing the tragus (that lump of flesh that protects the opening of the ear canal) or tugging your earlobe is painful.

If things get worse, clear fluid might start draining from the ear — maybe even pus (yuck) — along with hearing loss and pain spreading down into the neck area (which means the infection has gotten to your lymph nodes). A fever is probably part of this too.

Not a great way to celebrate summer. And at this point, a visit to the doctor is in order.

The best way to prevent a bout of swimmer’s ear is to let your ears dry out thoroughly after they’ve gotten wet, whether from swimming, activities in the rain, or sweat. That means not popping a hearing aid back in immediately — give the ear canal some time to work its evaporation magic. Earplugs are also a great idea for swimmers.

If you start feeling an itch, there are over-the-counter eardrops that will both treat an infection and aid the evaporation process. Bottles are less than $10, so a preventive care bargain when compared to a doctor’s visit.