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Swimmer’s Ear

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Clinical Directorate


Swimmer’s Ear

Associate Consultant-Cochlear Implant Surgeon

Summer season means lots of outdoor activities for children, one of the most popular ones these days is swimming. Since most of us do not have the luxury of a private swimming pool in our backyard we send our children to public and shared swimming pools. Although we take a number of precautions to make this safe for our children like floating tubes and ensuring a lifeguard is always on duty, we sometimes forget some of the smaller preventive measures which can lead to big health problems later on.

Swimmer’s ear is a fungal infection of the external ear (from the outer ear opening to the ear drum). It is known as Otomycosis or Otitis Externa in medical terms and is quite a common condition seen in people using public swimming pools. It is caused when water enters the ear canal and is not cleaned out properly. The warm and moist environment of the ear canal provides an opportunity for the fungal infection to flourish.

People having swimmer’s ear suffer from pain in the ear, redness, itching and discharge from the ear. Your child might complain of a burning sensation in the ear, thin or pus like discharge from the ear and decreased hearing also. Usually pain is felt if the outer ear is moved or pulled and also on pressing the soft cartilage in front of the ear canal. If ignored or left untreated the discharge from the ear may become blood stained as well – a problem that is compounded by the fact that itching sensation in the ear can cause your child to scratch incessantly and injure their ears. Even though this condition is common in the younger age group, people of any age can suffer from it.

You can take some easy steps to prevent this condition in the first place –

  • Make sure to dry your child’s ears after a swim or even after a bath.
  • Do not use ear buds – yes ear buds are not meant to be inserted into the ear canal and should only be used for drying out the outer part of the ear.
  • The best thing to use is a clean towel with a gentle rubbing action on the outer ear. The head can be tilted to one side and the ear lobe tugged gently to ease the water out. Habitual ear bud users do more harm than good to themselves by injuring the delicate skin of the ear canal which predisposes to infection.
  • Ear plugs to prevent water from entering the ear can also be used during swimming. A variety of ear plugs are available from plastic ones to soft silicone ones and custom fitted ones as well. Just ensure that the ear plugs fit your child’s ear canal snugly and at the same time are not too tight so as to cause an abrasion of the skin.

Although sounding scary, this condition is easy to treat. A short course of ear drops and pills for itching are required. Spores for the fungal infection persist in the ear and need to be cleaned out by an ENT specialist under vision, otherwise the infection can recur. This condition is not the only cause for discharge and ear pain, they can be caused by a variety of ear ailments. If you or any family member is suffering from these symptoms see your ENT specialist promptly and do no self-medication. If you suspect your child has this condition visit your ENT specialist. This condition can also affect adults and is more common in diabetics.

Wishing a happy and fun filled summer season for you and your child.