Posts Tagged ‘the-ear’

Dealing with Swimmers ear


-Idaho Statesman : Edition Date: 07/17/07 LINK TO ARTICLE.The antidote for the heat for many people is dipping in the pool or in the river, and it works wonders. If you dont believe it, take a look at the river on any sizzling day, and you will see folks using the natural coolness of the stream.

It seems the more time you spend in the water, the better you feel on a hot day. One thing you can get from all this time in the water is an ear problem called “swimmers ear.” I was talking with Dr. A. C. Jones, a local ear, nose and throat doctor, about this, and he had the following tips about how to handle this side effect of too much time in the water.
What is swimmers ear?
Swimmers ear occurs in the ear canal and is usually the result of an infection along this canal. The official name for swimmers ear is otits externa and it is usually a result of bacteria or viruses that get through the bodys normal protection against infection in this area. These defenses start with the physical formation of the ear canal, which usually keeps a bubble of air in the passage. This itself keeps most of the water out of a splash or a shallow dunking. Second, the ear canal is coated with a waxy substance appropriately called ear wax. This very water-resistant material keeps the tissue of the inside of the ear canal protected from moisture. Removing this with a swab or cotton tipped applicator takes away this protection. So unless the ear canal is blocked, leave it be. On the other hand, if there is a complete blocking of the ear canal from excess wax, an infection can set up behind this. You need to keep your ear canal open but not completely clear of earwax. Finally, it is unusual to put enough water in and around the ear canal to get the inner ear wet, unless you stay in the water for a long time or get a blast of water to the ear. On that note, a shot of water from a hose or a spray gun can have enough force to literally wash that protective layer of wax out of the ear, and in some cases even cause enough trauma to rupture an eardrum. Be careful with those water jets.
The dreaded ear infection
If the inside of the ear canal does get injured or unprotected, an infection can set up in there. Usually, the first thing you get is a sense of itching in the ear. You cannot scratch it out, though, and attempts to do so just make the pain worse. As the infection gets worse, the pain becomes more intense to the point that just touching the ear causes pain. A fever may also be part of the condition, as well as a watery yellow drainage out of the ear. Even your hearing can be reduced if there is enough swelling to completely close the ear canal. By this time, you know you have a real problem with the ear.
Treatment and avoidance
Once you get to the infection stage, Dr. Jones said that you have to clear all the pus, wax and skin debris out of the ear canal. This will not be fun and may need to be done by a physician. After it is clear, or at least open enough so that it can be accessed, you will need an antibiotic eardrop. This will help the body clean up the infection and reduce the swelling. Once the antibiotics are in, the ear will have to be kept clean and dry between applications. An earplug made of cotton and Vaseline will keep further moisture out while being soft enough to be tolerated. At this stage, the ear and ear canal can be very painful. With time and treatment, the pain will go away as the infection is cured. The swelling will subside as well, and you can move into the prevention phase.
Once the infection is gone, you can still get in the water. What you have to do is keep the ear protected, dry and clean of irritating material. Cleaning the ear canal can be done with a home remedy. Mix half rubbing alcohol and half white vinegar, and use this as a cleansing agent. Put a few drops of this in the ear, and let the excess wash out. The alcohol dries out the ear canal while the vinegar acidifies the canal and keeps bacteria from growing. However, do not overdo this treatment, as too much of a good thing can backfire. Do this after swimming or boating when you know you have water in the ear canal. You do not need to use this treatment unless you get water in the ear. Also, do not use this mixture if you have a perforated eardrum or ear tubes. This will be very painful.
There are great earplugs out there that can help stave off swimmers ear without having too much of an impact on your hearing. These are especially good for kayaking, where frequent blasts of rushing water can cause permanent damage. In the end, listen to what your ears are telling you, protect your ear canals, and treat them quickly if an infection starts. The good news is that even with an ear infection, if you give it proper and early treatment, you can be back in the water sooner than later.
Paul Collins, M.D., is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine at Orthopedic Health Care in Boise. Collins is an avid participant in many of Idahos outdoor activities. Send your sports medicine questions to  outdoors at or to the Idaho Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.