Swim­mer’s ear com­mon Sum­mer­time ail­ment

The Glengarry News - - Health, Beauty, Fitness, Nutrition -

Dr. Paul Roume­li­o­tis Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer of Health for the

East­ern On­tario Health Unit Both adults and chil­dren can de­velop “swim­mer’s ear,” es­pe­cially dur­ing the sum­mer months. Also known as oti­tis ex­terna, swim­mer’s ear is com­monly con­fused with the typ­i­cal ear in­fec­tions we see in chil­dren. How­ever, th­ese two types of con­di­tions dif­fer not only in their cause and symp­toms, but in their treat­ment too.

“Oti­tis” means in­flam­ma­tion or in­fec­tion of the ear and “ex­terna” means outer or ex­ter­nal. The term oti­tis ex­terna re­fers to an in­fec­tion or ir­ri­ta­tion of the outer ear canal caused by bac­te­ria or fungi that are com­monly found in lake (fresh) or ocean water.

Oti­tis ex­terna tends to oc­cur less fre­quently af­ter swim­ming in pool water, which tech­ni­cally is ster­ile be­cause of the chlo­rine. How­ever, if the pool is not well chlo­ri­nated, swim­mer’s ear can oc­cur af­ter swim­ming in pools too.

Swim­mer’s ear causes the fol­low­ing symp­toms pain, itch­i­ness, ooz­ing of pus or liq­uid from the af­fected ear, wors­en­ing pain when the ear is moved.

One of the dif­fer­ences be­tween this type of in­fec­tion and oti­tis me­dia (the typ­i­cal ear in­fec­tion that we hear about in chil­dren) is that oti­tis ex­terna does not af­fect the eardrum nor the area be­hind it (known as the mid­dle ear space). By ex­am­in­ing the ear through an oto­scope, a doc­tor can usu­ally eas­ily dis­tin­guish swim­mer’s ear from oti­tis me­dia. In swim­mer’s ear, the outer ear canal is red and ir­ri­tated whereas in oti­tis me­dia, it is the eardrum it­self that is red and in­fected. In contrast, this is not the case in swim­mer’s ear. Be­cause it tends to oc­cur dur­ing the swim­ming sea­son, swim­mer’s ear is seen more fre­quently in the sum­mer. How­ever, oti­tis me­dia tends to oc­cur more dur­ing the Win­ter months. How is swim­mers ear treated? Again, the ap­proach is not the same as for a mid­dle ear in­fec­tion or oti­tis me­dia, which is treated by an­tibi­otics taken by mouth.

Pre­ven­tion the key

For swim­mer’s ear, an­tibi­otic/anti-in­flam­ma­tory drops are pre­scribed and placed di­rectly into the ear. The treat­ment is usu­ally for 5 to 7 days and the symp­toms im­prove within a day or two af­ter start­ing the drops. Swim­mer’s ear very rarely causes any other more se­ri­ous com­pli­ca­tions or prob­lems. Swim­mer’s ear can be pre­vented by: • wear­ing bathing caps that cover the ear canal while swim­ming for pro­longed pe­ri­ods in a lake or beach

• dry­ing out the ear canal af­ter swim­ming (gen­tly pass­ing a hair dryer over the ear may help)

• not swim­ming in pools that ap­pear dirty or that are not prop­erly chlo­ri­nated

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