Home reme­dies for swim­mer’s ear

The Hamilton Spectator - - HEALTH - MAYO CLINIC NEWS NET­WORK

Swim­mer’s ear is an in­fec­tion in the outer ear canal, which runs from your eardrum to the out­side of your head. It’s of­ten brought on by wa­ter that re­mains in your ear after swim­ming, cre­at­ing a moist en­vi­ron­ment that aids bac­te­rial growth. Putting fin­gers, cot­ton swabs or other ob­jects in your ears also can lead to swim­mer’s ear by dam­ag­ing the thin layer of skin lin­ing your ear canal.

Swim­mer’s ear is also known as oti­tis ex­terna. The most com­mon cause of this in­fec­tion is bac­te­ria in­vad­ing the skin in­side your ear canal. Usu­ally you can treat swim­mer’s ear with eardrops. Prompt treat­ment can help pre­vent com­pli­ca­tions and more se­ri­ous in­fec­tions.

• Keep your ears dry. Dry your ears thor­oughly after ex­po­sure to mois­ture from swim­ming or bathing. Dry only your outer ear, wip­ing it slowly and gen­tly with a soft towel or cloth. Tip your head to the side to help wa­ter drain from your ear canal. You can dry your ears with a blow dryer if you put it on the low­est set­ting and hold it at least a foot (about 0.3 me­tres) away from the ear.

• At-home pre­ven­tive treat­ment. If you know you don’t have a punc­tured eardrum, you can use home­made pre­ven­tive eardrops be­fore and after swim­ming. A mix­ture of 1 part white vine­gar to 1 part rub­bing al­co­hol may help pro­mote dry­ing and pre­vent the growth of bac­te­ria and fungi that can cause swim­mer’s ear. Pour 1 tea­spoon (about 5 millil­itres) of the so­lu­tion into each ear and let it drain back out. Sim­i­lar over-the-counter so­lu­tions may be avail­able at your drug­store.

• Watch for signs alert­ing to high bac­te­rial counts and don’t swim on those days.

• Never at­tempt to scratch an itch or dig out ear­wax with items such as a cot­ton swab, pa­per clip or hair­pin. Us­ing these items can pack ma­te­rial deeper into your ear canal, ir­ri­tate or break the thin skin in­side your ear.

• Use cau­tion after an ear in­fec­tion or surgery. If you’ve re­cently had an ear in­fec­tion or ear surgery, talk to your doc­tor be­fore you go swim­ming. SYMP­TOMS Swim­mer’s ear symp­toms are usu­ally mild at first, but they may get worse if your in­fec­tion isn’t treated or spreads. MILD SIGNS AND SYMP­TOMS • Itch­ing in your ear canal • Slight red­ness in­side your ear • Mild dis­com­fort that’s made worse by pulling on your outer ear or push­ing on the lit­tle “bump” in front of your ear • Some drainage of clear, odour­less fluid MOD­ER­ATE PRO­GRES­SION • More in­tense itch­ing • In­creas­ing pain • More ex­ten­sive red­ness in your ear • Ex­ces­sive fluid or pus drainage • Feel­ing of full­ness in­side your ear and par­tial block­age of your ear canal by swelling, fluid and de­bris • De­creased or muf­fled hear­ing AD­VANCED PRO­GRES­SION • Se­vere pain that may ra­di­ate to your face, neck or side of your head, fever • Com­plete block­age of your ear canal • Red­ness or swelling of your outer ear • Swelling in the lymph nodes in your neck Con­tact your doc­tor if you’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing any signs or symp­toms of swim­mer’s ear, even if they’re mild. Visit the emer­gency room if you have se­vere pain or fever.

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