An ear infection (otitis) is an inflammation of the ear, which can occur during any time of year. However, some people, such as avid swimmers, can suffer from recurring otitis externa, also called “swimmer’s ear.”
Types of ear infections
There are three types of ear infection, which are generally categorized according to the area of the ear affected.
Otitis interna is an infection of the inner ear. In many cases, it results from a viral infection such as the mumps, measles or the flu. Given that the inner ear regulates balance, symptoms of this type of ear infection are usually:
- Ringing in the ears
as is the case with labyrinthitis.
Resulting from a build-up of fluid in the middle ear, otitis media (middle ear infection) may accompany a cold or allergies. This infection involves inflammation of the eardrum, causing pressure and pain. If left untreated, middle ear infections may result in temporary hearing loss and may also affect the inner ear.
Otitis externa is an inflammation or infection of the external ear canal, which is located between the flap of the ear and the eardrum. Swimmer’s ear is one type of otitis externa. It commonly causes a temporary earache, but may also lead to:
- White discharge
- Partial hearing loss
Preventing swimmer’s ear
Swimmer’s ear can be caused by a breakage in the skin, a foreign body in the ear or an infection due to improper cotton swab use. But the most common reason for swimmer’s ear is the presence of moisture in the external ear canal, usually left behind after swimming.
Preventing - Drying Ears
To prevent this type of otitis, keep your ears dry. After showering or swimming, make sure to drain your ears of any excess water by leaning your head to one side. Also, dry your outer ear with a towel, being sure not to insert your finger too far into the canal. If these measures do not work, there are also products available to dry the ear canal after swimming.
Preventing - Special Earplugs
In addition, polluted water and pools with excess chlorine increase the risk for infection. In these cases, some swimmers use special earplugs designed to keep water out of the ear canal.
Preventing - Cleaning Ears
To clean the ear, you should use a thin facecloth with mild soap. Cerumen (ear wax) is a natural lubricant that protects the ear. It drains out on its own and can then simply be removed with a tissue. Using a cotton swab may push it further into the canal, increasing the risks for infection.
Do you have questions about ear infections and how to treat them? Talk to your family pharmacists. They’re here to help!