Summer time means swimming, swim lessons, and vacations by the lake or pool. As the season progresses, bacteria multiplies and it is not uncommon to experience swimmer’s ear, especially in August.

Parents are bringing their kids into AFC Urgent Care with ear aches, and often with the question,  ‘Is it swimmer’s ear or a middle ear infection?’

Symptoms can often overlap.

How to know if it’s a middle ear infection or swimmer’s ear?

A middle ear infection is usually preceded by a cold or an upper respiratory infection. They can be bacterial or they can be viral.

What is swimmer’s ear?

Swimmer’s ear is a bacterial infection along the lining of the ear, from the eardrum to the outer ear. It is not caused by an upper respiratory infection, rather it generates from fluid gathering in the outer ear,often by swimming in waters with high bacteria counts.

Symptoms of swimmer’s ear:

Swimmer’s ear can vary in its severity:

Mild symptoms often include itching,  mild pain from pulling or pushing on the outer ear, a slight redness inside the ear.
There can also be drainage of a clear odorless fluid from the ear, and often times the feeling that the ear is clogged.

Moderate symptoms can include more intense itching, increasing pain, more extensive redness and/or fluid /drainage, which is more like pus, and possibly a decrease in hearing.
Severe symptoms of swimmer’s ear may include swelling of the ear, pain extending into your neck, a high fever, tender lymph nodes, and possibly a discharge. If you are having any of these severe swimmers ear symptoms you should go directly to the ER.

Swimmer’s ear treatment:

Swimmer’s ear is bacterial and so will need to be treated with antibiotic eardrops. Prior to that we examine your ear to ensure that the ear drum is intact, and carefully remove any debris  as by the time we see the patient the ear is often highly sensitive.
Home care for swimmer’s ear while healing:

  • put eardrops in with ear facing up
  • do not swim during treatment
  • do not use earplugs
  • do not fly during treatment
  • when bathing use a cotton ball with petroleum jelly on it

Preventing swimmer’s ear:

Wouldn’t it just be better to prevent swimmer’s ear altogether? It can be tough to avoid sometimes, especially if your child is taking swim lessons, or loves to swim on a daily basis, but there are a few preventative tips you can use to try and avoid swimmer’s ear.

  • try to avoid swimming in waters with high bacteria counts, especially later in the season in the northeast
  • do not putany sharp objects deep in to the ear canal, including Q-tips, even if there is itching
  • do not use ear plugs, especially for an extended period of time. They breed bacteria
  • when coming out of the water dry ears and get rid of any water by tilting head ( it can sometimes help to hop up and down).

Home remedies for swimmer’s ear:

There are a few home remedies you can try to help avoid infection, or if you feel an infection is coming on.  The most common is 1 part white vinegar and 1 part alcohol to help keep the ear canal clean, but we recommend that you only use that if you are sure that your ear drum is intact and not ruptured.

You can also apply heat to the ear to control the pain at home. Warmth from a heating pad or a dry warmed towel may provide some relief.
If you  or a family member is experiencing any of these symptoms visit us here at AFC Urgent Care Hartsdale, open 7 days a week, no appointment necessary.

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