By Sophia Baker
Otitis externa is the medical term for swimmer's ear, and
occurs when an infection develops in the outer ear and the
ear canal skin. The difference between swimmer's ear and an
inner ear infection (otitis media) is that congestion, a
runny nose, and other cold symptoms will generally be
present when a person has an inner ear infection. When water
becomes lodged in the ear canal following bathing,
showering, or swimming, swimmer's ear can occur. When water
begins to irritate the canal within your ear, an infection
can develop because of fungal or bacterial growth.
Although never contagious, such an infection is much like
those that happen after a bite or laceration of the skin.
Over-the-counter ear drops may be purchased to lessen the
possibility of contracting swimmer's ear, or you may make
the drops yourself by combining like amounts of rubbing
alcohol and white vinegar. As soon as you have finished
swimming, simply put five to ten drops in both ears,
allowing the drops to remain several minutes inside the ear
before emptying them out on to a Kleenex.
The alcohol portion of the treatment immediately removes
moisture, and the vinegar destroys any harmful toxins. This
is to be used as a preventative measure and not as a
treatment for infections. Other measures to take to reduce
the risk of swimmer's ear include drying ears thoroughly
when water has gotten into them, staying out of polluted
water when swimming, and keeping foreign objects out of the
Some signs of swimmer's ear are itching in or around the
ear; hearing difficulties; discomfort in the ear if you
press on certain parts of the ear, like the flap covering
the ear canal or when you pull on the ear; and discomfort in
the area on your face surrounding the ear. Discomfort in
just one ear can also indicate that you have swimmer's ear.
A discharge that's yellowish-green in color may also emerge
from the ear canal. It's very important to see a doctor
immediately if you notice the signs of swimmer's ear in your
child, particularly if discharge is present. While a rare
occurrence, it's possible that an untreated instance of
swimmer's ear can spread and ultimately effect the bone or
cartilage surrounding the ear. The pain of swimmer's ear may
be alleviated by placing a warm cloth or a heating pad on
the ear or by taking acetaminophen.
Should the infection be advanced and the ear canal be
swollen, the doctor will probably give you a prescription
for antibiotic-steroid drops. Such steroids ease the
suffering and help the irritated skin to get well, while the
antibiotic eliminates fungus or bacteria. Your physician
might put a wick in the child's ear if there is significant
swelling of the ear canal; a wick is a bit of sponge or
cotton which helps the drops to penetrate down to the ear
canal. The drops are generally used for somewhere between
five to ten days and the child must not go swimming or get
any water in the ear during the treatment.
Things to watch for after swimmer's ear treatment include
stiffness in the neck, fever or dizziness, continual
drainage or discharge from the ear canal, and persistent ear
pain; should any of these issues occur, be sure to contact
your doctor to discuss further options.
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