During the summer heat, one way to cool off is to freshen up by swimming in pools, rivers, lakes, etc., but be careful – if you swim in dirty waters it can cause inflammation of the outer ear or otitis.
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Otitis Externa (OE): Swimmers Ear
Summer weather, high external temperatures, and frequently increased sweating are prerequisites for frequent inflammation of the outer hearing corridor. Otitis Externa (OE) is an infection of the outer ear canal and is the most common form of ear infection. It is caused by a change in the natural balance in the outer hearing canal (OHC).
The skin of the outer hearing corridor is thin and in the part, just in front of the eardrum, there are only 2-3 layers of cells. On the other hand, the skin in the ear canal is often covered with bacteria and fungi, which live there normally, so that at a convenient moment (e.g. contact with dirty water) a secondary infection may occur.
Under normal conditions, the outer hearing canal is protected by cerumen (ear fat), which establishes a balance between the skin of the canal and the convective germs. The infection is the result of microevolution, maceration of the skin, eczema, or foreign body in the outer hearing canal.
The common name for this disease is “swimmers ear” because it is most often diagnosed in the summer months, after swimming in rivers and lakes.
Long-Term Swimmer’s Ear (Chronic Otitis Externa)
Chronic otitis externa occurs when a swimmer’s ear does not resolve after a period of three months. It is attainable if you have difficult-to-treat germs, fungi, allergies, or skin disorders such as psoriasis or eczema.
To help you decide on the best therapy, your doctor may need to examine a sample of any fluid in your ear.
Otitis Externa (Swimmers Ear): Symptoms
The main symptom is intense pain, which is also the most common cause for patients to check in with a doctor.
It occurs abruptly, within 24 hours of the infection starts. The pain is intensified when pressed against the ear shell, especially on the part of the cartilage that is located at the entrance to the ear canal.
Other symptoms include:
- itching in the ear,
- impaired hearing,
- buzzing in the ears,
- in some cases – leaking clear or festering secretions from the ear.
In more severe cases, the infection can spread forward, to the lower jaw muscles, which manifests itself in pain and difficulty opening the mouth.
Otitis Externa (Swimmers Ear): The Most Common Causes
The most common causes are Pseudomonas Aeruginosa (in 20% to 60% of cases), followed by Staphylococcus Aureus (10% to 30%), and significantly less frequent Escherichia Coli, Proteus, and Klebsiella bacteria species.
Not so rarely, multiple different bacteria can be isolated at the same time. Less frequently, inflammation causes can be fungi (Aspergillus and Candida Albicans), often in cases of inadequate systemic and topical use of antibiotics. Viruses such as Herpes Simplex and Herpes Zoster are the main causes for approximately 5% of the infected population.
In particular, there is an increased risk in people who often use ear sticks. By constantly tampering with ear sticks, you’ll remove the protective layer of ear fat and thus become receptive to the development of infection.
In protecting the ear from infection, various products that are on the market which contain olive or almond oil can be used. Putting them before going swimming reduces the risk of illness.
Earplugs made of wax or silicone can also be used.
Otitis Externa (Swimmers Ear): Diagnosis
If you experience ear pain, consult your doctor as soon as possible. Getting treatment as soon as possible helps prevent an illness from worsening. During your consultation, your doctor will examine your ear and may clean it gently. This will improve the efficacy of medicines.
You’ll most likely be given eardrops containing antibiotics, steroids, or other chemicals to combat the infection and reduce swelling. You may also need to take antibiotic tablets in some circumstances.
When to Contact Your Doctor?
If you see any indications of an ear infection, always consult your doctor. If you feel dizzy or have ringing in your ears, you may have a more serious condition that needs to be evaluated.