Otitis externa is a common condition. It is called swimmer’s ear because it often occurs in swimmers, although it can occur in anyone. It is an inflammation and infection of the outer ear canal skin, which blocks the inlet to the eardrum, resulting in hearing loss, pain, and sometimes itching.
Ear canal skin is at risk from infection from repeated water exposure, which softens the skin barrier thus allowing organisms to penetrate. Skin conditions, such as eczema, which results in abnormal wax, and excessive ear cleaning with Q tips also break down the skin barrier. Bacteria and fungus can both cause infection, one of the most common bacteria being Pseudomonas Aeruginosa.
Common symptoms of swimmer’s ear include: fever, itching inside the ear, sharp pain in the neck, face or head, redness and swelling of the auricle and ear canal, ear drainage, swollen glands in the upper neck, and muffled hearing or ear fullness.
The typical treatment of otitis externa is topical antibiotic drops, which are placed in the ear canal. A thorough in-office cleaning may be required to assure the drops reach the infected area.
If the ear canal is too swollen for the drops, you may require a small sponge or wick to be placed within the canal to draw the drops past the obstruction. For severe infections, oral antibiotics and/or steroids may be necessary