Summer is here, and that means yet another season of splashing in pools and other bodies of water to cool off. But what happens when a fun summer activity leads to temporary hearing loss due to swimmer’s ear?
Swimmer’s Ear: What It Is and Why It Happens
Swimmer’s ear (also known as otitis externa) is an infection that affects the outer ear canal due to water that remains in your ear after swimming. This creates a moist environment that promotes the growth of harmful bacteria. All water contains bacteria, but the levels are higher in non-treated bodies of water, such as rivers, lakes, and oceans. According to hearing doctors in Denver, improper draining of bacteria-laden water can trap it in the ear canal, which causes an infection.
Irritating your skin with hairpins, cotton swabs, and hair products can also worsen the condition when an infection is present.
Mild symptoms of swimmer’s ear include the following:
- Slight redness inside your ear
- Itching in your ear canal
- Mild discomfort made worse by pushing on the tragus (the little bump in front of your ear) or by pulling on the pinna (outer ear)
- Drainage of clear and odorless fluid
Swimmer’s ear is usually not severe if you receive prompt treatment. Complications, however, can still occur. Many people with swimmer’s ear also experience ear pressure and pain, fever, slight redness of the skin, and swollen lymph nodes. Hearing loss is also a potential complication.
How It Affects Your Hearing
Temporary or permanent hearing loss can occur when your inner ear’s sensitive organs are compromised, and the infection spreads to the base of the skull and the brain.
It might be hard to imagine, but your inner ear is filled with thousands of sensitive hearing nerve cells that register sound qualities. These hair cells are fragile and can’t regenerate easily. When the infection damages these tiny hair cells, you can lose your hearing.
When Do You Seek Help?
There are a few ways to determine if your inner ear is infected due to trapped water. If your ear hurts or itches while you chew, or if your hearing is more muffled or seems quieter due to a clogging sensation, seek help immediately.
A hearing specialist will examine your ear with an otoscope to see the extent of the infection. They often prescribe antifungal or antibiotic eardrops. They also advise patients to avoid swimming and flying to allow the ear to heal properly. If treated properly, you can recover from swimmer’s ear in just 14 days.
Doctors may also advise patients to take precautionary measures such as:
- Drying your ears with a towel after swimming
- Tilting the head to each side to drain excess water
- Removing hearing aids to prevent moisture
- Avoiding the use of cotton swabs to clean ears
If you or a loved one has been experiencing ear pain or sudden loss after a good time in the pool or other bodies of water, don’t wait. Get in touch with Peak ENT and Voice Center today