(OTITIS EXTERNA aka Swimmer’s ear or Outer Ear Infection)
The external ear canal is the part of the ear that connects the outer ear to the eardrum. This outer ear infection takes place in the external ear canal and usually presents a sudden painful condition usually caused by bacterial infection, inflammation or sometimes fungal infection.
People who are predisposed to outer ear infection includes the young and adolescent group, people with skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis, and people with excessive ear wax production.
The natural defence mechanism of the ear canal
- The narrow ear canal serve to reduce entry of contaminants
- The sticky nature of the ear wax helps to maintain a harsh environment for bacteria, helping to trap fine debris and also repel water.
What are the Causes of Swimmer’s Ears or Outer Ear Infection?
A moist ear canal can serve as a reservoir for bacterial (most common cause) or fungal infection to seed on.
Other factors that contribute to outer ear infection:
- Exposure to contaminated water, swimming pool or hot tubs
- Contact with allergic or corrosive chemicals such as hair dye or spray
- Excessive ear canal cleaning with cotton buds
- Skin barrier impairment over the ear canal secondary to eczema/ psoriasis or abrasions secondary to scratching
- Using ear canal devices such as earphones, hearing aids, diving caps
- Complication from water irrigation during ear wax removal procedures
Concurrent infection which causes inflammation and swelling of the skin. This leads to obstruction, itch and scratching of the ear canal which will create further injury, thus worsening the condition.
What are the Signs and symptoms of Swimmer’s Ears or Outer Ear Infection?
- Ear pain
- Discharges from ear
- The feeling of blocked ear
- Reduced hearing
What are the treatments for Swimmer’s Ears or Outer Ear Infection?
The treatment goal is to control pain and treat the infection.
- Careful cleaning of the ear canal using specialized equipment
- Eardrops to reduce inflammation and hinder the growth of bacteria and fungus
With the removal of debris in the ear, this will facilitate the absorption of ear drops in the ear canal.
In addition, the doctor can place a sponge or wick in the canal if it is swollen. This will increase the delivery of ear drops into the ear canal.
How to take care of your ears?
It is important to avoid the ear canal from getting wet during treatment. Extra precautions should be taken while showering. Avoid swimming 7-10 days during infection is of great importance.
If you swim regularly, consider
- Shake your ears dry after swimming
- Blow dry the ears with low setting dryer held from a distance away
- Use earplugs during swimming
Are there any Follow-ups?
A patient needs to be follow up 36-48 hours after treatment initiation to monitor symptoms. Sometimes, the ear may need cleansing again using specialized equipment by a doctor in addition to the installation of ear drops.
Most external ear infection improves within 7-10 days.