Monday, May 20, 2013

Swim Season! Are Your EARS Ready?

Swim season is fully upon us, and with that comes a couple medical challenges. Today I'd like to focus on swimmer's ear.

What is swimmer's ear? 
This typically refers to an OUTER EAR infection caused by fungi or bacteria. The moisture left in the ear after swimming is fertile ground for these organisms to multiply, especially lake water.

What are the symptoms?
Swimmer's ear is PAINFUL and almost always one sided, despite the fact that both ears had the same exposure. (Differently shaped ear canals and varied amounts of ear wax are to blame for this discrepancy.) Since this is an outer ear infection, typically there are no other symptoms (such as stuffy nose, headache, or sore throat, like we see with middle ear infections.)

How quickly should you head to your doctor?
Good news here- often mild to moderate cases of swimmer's ear can be treated with over-the-counter solutions. If you are developing fever or intense pain, it's time to head call your doctor, but more mild symptoms can wait for a couple day trial of home therapy.

How is it treated?
Doctors treat these infections with ear drops that contain both antibiotics or anti-fungal medications, as well as drying and anti-inflammatory agents. However, there is a home concoction that works extremely well for prevention, and often can provide a remedy. Grab a bottle of vinegar and a bottle of rubbing alcohol, and mix them together half & half. This mixture can be spilled on to a cotton ball and squeezed into the ear canal OR my preference is to use the bottle from the over-the-counter swimmer's ear prevention product and fill it up with my "home brew". Place around six drops in each ear, and allow to drain back out- do this after every swim session, and three times/day if you develop a sore ear. Warming up the bottle in your hands will make it less irritating to your ears. The vinegar kills the bacteria & fungus and the alcohol dries up any remaining moisture. Voila! Prevention & cure- same solution.

Please remember that although this mixture will treat a large percentage of outer ear infections, if your sore ear isn't improving in a couple days, please call your doctor & let them take a look, as you may require stronger medications.

By the way, using q-tips to "clean" the ear serves to cause minor trauma to the ear canal and tends to make it easier to get these outer ear infections, so skip the q-tips, please.

BOTTOM LINE: If you (or your kids) are frequent swimmers, don't wait for a sore ear to start using swimmer's ear prevention this summer!

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