Summertime Splishin' and Splashin'

By Kari Monk, PA-C

Summertime in Texas means long hot days, backyard barbecues, swimming, and the dreaded swimmer’s ear. Swimmer’s ear, also known as otitis externa, is a common ear problem that peaks during summer months. Swimmer’s ear affects the external ear compartment known as the external auditory canal and auricle. The term otitis externa refers to inflammation in the external auditory canal.  

The most frequent cause of swimmer's ear is an infection. Other causes include wearing earbuds/hearing aids, trauma, foreign objects, and allergic reactions. Swimmer's ear peaks in the summer usually due to swimming and excessive moisture in the ear. The excessive moisture causes a shift in normal pH and leads to changes in the normal skin cells in the external canal. These changes can lead to overgrowth of organisms resulting in an infection. Symptoms of swimmer’s ear include pain, swelling, discharge, decreased hearing, and itching. The pain may be worsened by tugging or pushing on the outer ear. 

Treatment of swimmer's ear due to infection usually requires the use of prescription ear drops and pain medications. If you suspect you may have swimmer's ear, please consult your healthcare provider. You can decrease the chances of an infection by using wax ear plugs while swimming and using over the counter swimmer's ear drops after swimming. Talk to your health care provider to find out if these products may benefit you and how to make your own swimmer's ear drops. Interestingly, earwax may have a protective role in preventing external ear infections. Earwax is acidic which helps prevent overgrowth of organisms. Earwax prevents excessive moisture in the ear by acting as a repellent. Therefore, earwax is best left alone unless otherwise advised by your healthcare provider. By taking a few preventative measures and seeking treatment quickly if you suspect swimmer's ear, you can hopefully enjoy an ear pain free summer.