Infancy and early childhood are the peak years for middle-ear infections (otitis media). Adolescents are more prone to infections of the outer ear (otitis externa). They may contract the bacteria or fungus while swimming in polluted lakes and ponds—although frequent dips in chlorinated swimming pools can also lead to external otitis. Teens who don’t swim can also develop swimmer’s ear by cleaning their ears too roughly.
Symptoms That Suggest Swimmer's Ear May Include:
Severe ear pain that worsens whenever the ear is touched or tugged
Itching in the ear canal
Temporary hearing loss in the affected ear, due to the canal’s becoming swollen or filled with pus
Redness around the canal opening
How Swimmer's Ear is Diagnosed:
A thorough medical history and physical examination, including an ear exam using an otoscope
Laboratory analysis of the ear drainage may also sometimes be of help
How Swimmer's Ear is Treated:
Drug therapy: After cleaning the infected ear, your doctor will begin treatment with eardrops. These drops contain medicines that kill certain bacteria and fungus, as well as treat inflammation. The average course of treatment runs approximately one week. Occasionally, the external otitis is severe enough to warrant the additional use of an oral antibiotic. Most cases of swimmer’s ear are caused by either of two bacteria: Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus or a fungal infection called “Aspergillus.” Be forewarned that it is not uncommon for the ear pain from external otitis to intensify for a day or two before the drops take effect.
Additional therapy: Teenagers must keep their ears dry and continue taking their medication for two to three weeks after the symptoms fade. When showering or washing their hair, they should cover their head with a plastic cap or protect their ear canals with a soft earplug such as a cotton ball covered with vaseline or commercially available ear putty. Placing a warm compress or heating pad against the ear will help reduce pain. Analgesics such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs will also help.