Swimmer's ear can lead to serious problems if left untreated

Swimmer's ear
Posted at 10:56 AM, Aug 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-05 12:01:09-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — If you have been spending a lot of time at the pool or the beach, keep in mind, while a dip in the water can be very inviting, it might also be inviting some serious pain in the ear.

Doctors say swimmer’s ear, or otitis externa, is popping up more and more.

Spending time in the water during the summer is one way to find relief from the South Texas heat. However, you should take certain precautions to avoid a common ailment known as swimmer's ear.

“Swimmer’s ear is an external ear infection. Usually what happens is that the kids will swim in the pool or lake, ocean, and the water will be in their ear and then an infection will start,” said Corpus Christi Medical Center Emergency Medicine Physician Dr. Kim Onufrak.

Symptoms of swimmer’s ear usually appear within a few days of swimming.

“Usually the symptoms are mild at first, you can start to have a little bit of a mild itch, fullness in the ear, and maybe a little bit of muffled hearing and that's what starts the external ear infection,” said Onufrak.
If left untreated, swimmer’s ear can lead to more serious problems.

“If it doesn’t get treated then it can become more serious, and then you start to have the fevers; it can develop into a deeper infection into the middle ear. It can also spread to the deeper skin structures, and also to your bones and into the sinus cavity,” said Onufrak.

Most people swim and don’t have problems, but if you are prone to ear infections or swimmer’s ear, consider taking the extra steps to keep your ears dry.

“There are things you can do to prevent it; you can try to avoid overuse of q-tips, sticking anything in your ear, because that does cause abrasions that can lead to infections. If you do swim, try to avoid areas where there are high areas of bacteria levels. What happens is the water stays in the ear, the ear is an area for infection because it is dark, moist, and you can develop an ear infection that way,” Onufrak said.

While cases can spike during the summer months, you can be proactive to protect your ears by keeping them clean and dry.

If your ears become swollen, painful or have fluid draining, you need to get to a doctor.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), swimmer's ear results in an estimated 2.4 million health care visits every year.

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.

Swimmer's ear symptoms are usually mild at first, but they can worsen if your infection isn't treated or spreads.

Doctors often classify swimmer's ear according to mild, moderate and advanced stages of progression.

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 (pinna or auricle) or pushing on the little "bump" in front of your ear (tragus)
• Some drainage of clear, odorless fluid

Moderate progression

• More-intense itching
• Increasing pain
• More-extensive redness in your ear
• Excessive fluid 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 might radiate to your face, neck or side of your head