Swimmer’s Ear and Why Everyone Can Catch It

Ear infections are actually a lot more common than most people might think. While kids are more prone to them, the fact is everyone can catch one in the most unexpected ways. One such infection is called swimmer’s ear, but in spite of its name, people don’t need to dip themselves into water to catch it.

Swimmer’s ear is an infection that can be quite mild and benign if diagnosed quickly, but it can also turn fairly ugly if left untreated. And as it’s already been mentioned, one can easily catch it even if they don’t swim; for instance, in the shower or afterwards, as they clean their ears with cotton swabs.

The condition, whose medical name is otitis externa, usually results from water that gets trapped in the inner ear. This water is the ideal environment for bacteria and even fungus to reproduce, and as they do so, they cause an infection.

This type of infection is obviously more common among frequent swimmers, as they are more likely to have water trapped in their ears, but the same can happen to someone who only swims occasionally or even after washing their hair as part of their normal routines.

Cleaning the ear too vigorously with cotton swabs can also cause swimmer’s ear, as the scratches and scrapes leave the ear canal vulnerable to bacteria. Statictically, children are at higher risk to develop the condition. On the other hand, people who deal with itching in the ear – for instance, if they have high amounts of ear wax or suffer from eczema – are also very likely to pick up the infection.

The first signs of swimmer’s ear are itching, redness and some mild swelling, but if left untreated, the infection can then cause severe pain and inflammation in the outer ear. Symptoms will worsen as the infection progresses, causing a discharge from the ears, nodes in the neck and a fever. In some cases, the skin can also swell until it closes over the ear, impairing one’s hearing capacity. The hearing loss is, however, only temporary in the vast majority of known cases.

Patients who have been dealing with ear discomfort for days should always see their doctors to confirm whether they have swimmer’s ear or not, and start the proper treatment with antibiotics if needed.

As for prevention, the key is to try and keep the ears clean and dry. This may mean wearing ear plugs to the pool or gently drying your ears with rubbing alcohol afterwards. Cotton swabs should be used carefully, especially by those with sensitive skin in the ears.