Recreational Water Illnesses come in a variety of forms, including skin conditions (see Part 1), respiratory illnesses (see Part 2), and diarrheal illnesses. Often caused by a combination of contaminants and chemicals found in pool water, the list of RWIs includes ear infections. While the official name of the kind of ear infection caused by water is “otitis externa,” you probably know it as “swimmer’s ear.”
Basic Description of Swimmer’s Ear
Accounting for approximately 2.4 million health care visits each year, swimmer’s ear is far from uncommon. However, it’s important to understand that while swimmer’s ear is an infection, it is different from another common infection of the ear that can occur without exposure to water — a middle ear infection.
By contrast, swimmer’s ear is an infection of the canal of the outer ear. This kind of infection comes with itchiness inside the ear along with redness, swelling, pain, and sometimes even pus that drains from the ear. It occurs within a few days of exposure to a swimming pool and can occur in swimmers of any age. Swimmer’s ear is more common among children and can result in extreme pain when extra pressure is put on the ear.
Common Causes of Swimmer’s Ear
Otitis externa, or swimmer’s ear, is caused when water enters the ear canal and remains there long enough for germs to grow. Sometimes skin infections occur simultaneous to this kind of ear infection. While swimmer’s ear isn’t contagious, it is more commonly contracted through public swimming pools, where germs are more prevalent. As a swimming pool owner, you can reduce the chances of contracting swimmer’s ear in your own private pool by checking ph levels as well as levels of other chemicals each day and ensuring that all levels are within standards.
Treatment & Prevention for Swimmer’s Ear
As painful as swimmer’s ear can be, it is fairly easy to treat with antibiotic ear drops; like other antibiotics, though, these drops are only available when prescribed by a healthcare provider. For those prone to swimmer’s ear, steps toward prevention can include using ear plugs or a swimmer’s cap. Even if you don’t take those steps, you can reduce the chances of getting this kind of infection by simply drying your ears after swimming or even showering. It may also help to tilt your head from one side to the other to allow water to escape from your ear canal.
Some added prevention steps can include using a hair dryer to dry any remaining water, but you’ll want to make sure to use the lowest heat setting and speed and keep the dryer from getting too close to the ear. Since ear wax serves the purpose of protecting your ear canal, avoid removing it with cotton-tip swabs or other objects. If you’re especially susceptible to this kind of infection, your healthcare provider may advise you to use ear drops after any swimming pool exposure to reduce your chances of getting future infections.
Continue reading with Part 4.
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