Swimmer’s Ear – Cause of Temporary Hearing Loss

Ranjeet KumarReviewed by Mr. Ranjeet Kumar Sr. Audiologist, Speech Therapist & Cochlear Implant Specialist, BASLP on Jul 26th, 2019 written by Editorial Team
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Swimming, splashing, playing in and around water is one of the favorite summer sport which kids enjoy. But what if your desired fun activity leads to a painful ear infection or temporary hearing loss? This happens, more often than you can think.

You can purchase the latest hearing aids at a fair price through HearingSol, If you need any assistance or you have a query regarding Swimmer’s Ear or Hearing Loss, feel free to call us at 1800-121-4408. We are always here to help you.

Swimmer’s Ear or acute otitis externa affects the outer ear and is a painful situation affecting millions of people every year. The stats increase in summer, mostly 44 percent of cases occurring in June and August.

Though it is not age-specific, mostly associated with children. This is due to their narrow ear canal. It occurs 5 times more in swimmers as compared to the general population, hence the name “Swimmer’s Ear”.

Exactly what is swimmer’s ear? Swimmer’s ear is a type of excruciatingly painful skin infection that leads from the outer ear to eardrum.

Though it is common for swimmers, it’s not necessary to be a swimmer to get it. Some times the hot and humid climate is enough for moisture build-up and getting trapped.

The only good news is that in case of swimmer’s ear hearing can be retained to normal in about a week after injection is cleared up.


Swimmer’s Ear And Hearing Loss

Swimmer’s Ear is a medical condition, which sometimes leads to temporary hearing loss. This condition is due to the trapped water in the ear canal which results in the accumulation of bacteria on the skin surface.

Common situations that risk swimmer’s ear includes stagnant water, hot tub, swimming pools, showers, water slides in the waterpark and other places with moisture.

People having eczema, seborrhea or skin damage in their ear canal are more prone to getting an infection. Specific chemicals in hair sprays or hair dyes can trigger the condition when used with a cotton ball.

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People may experience a hearing difficulty in case of swimmer’s ear if it goes untreated. With proper treatment, their hearing impairment diminishes.

But if the treatment is ineffective, the condition may continue to occur resulting in recurring cases of hearing loss. In extreme cases, the base of the skull, cranial nerves and brain can also be damaged as the infection spreads.

For swimmer’s ear, applying ear drops during the initial stages of infection can help to treat it. The composition of these eardrops is boric or acetic acid which stops harmful bacteria from further multiplication.

If you suspect of suffering from swimmer’s ear, consult your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment. The infection can also get into bone and cartilage around the ear causing temporary deafness.

This hearing impairment can be due to the infection, inflamed skin (blocked sensation), which blocks sound through the middle ear to the inner ear.

This hearing loss can also be considered as Conductive Deafness i.e. inability of sound waves to travel from the outer ear to the middle ear.

With a blocked ear canal, the sound seems muffled or muted. This hearing loss can be reversed if treated on time.


Causes Of Swimmer’s Ear

  • Allergies and sensitivities- It is not a common cause for swimmer’s ear to occur. Hairspray, hair dye, jewelry or even lotions can be allergic that can get into the ear and lead to swimmer’s ear.
  • Moisture- Spending too much time in the water and not draining your ear properly can result in swimmer’s ear. Sweating and excessive humidity also contributes to it.
  • Open Wound- Any open wounds i.e. a cut or scratch allow bacteria or other microbes to get into the bloodstream and cause illness. It can also occur due to the use of a cotton swab or sticking fingers in the ear.
  • Excess Bacteria- “As bacteria proliferate in a moist and warm environment” our ear is a suitable place for their occurrence. So, Bacteria accumulation is the basic cause of ear infection. Water with a high level of bacteria can be a major cause of swimmer’s ear.
  • Excessive cleaning- Excessive cleaning of the ear canal using a cotton swab or any other object.

The biggest concern is the number of places outside the pool or shower where you can acquire swimmer’s ear.


Complications Related To Swimmer’s Ear

It is important to consult a doctor and have an audiology test as soon as you witness any of the symptoms of swimmer’s ear.

The complications become severe if left untreated. These complications are not very common but can occur to anyone.

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  • Temporary hearing loss
  • Long-term and frequent ear infections
  • Infections of the deep tissue
  • Cartilage and bone damage
  • Infection that gets into the brain

The temporary hearing loss doesn’t mean going completely deaf after an occurrence of swimmer’s ear infection, but it can be of any version of hearing loss.

This means that your hearing loss can be a little or a lot as you suffer from your infection, and it’s difficult to live without the full hearing capability.


Symptoms Of Swimmer’s Ear

Pain may not be much noticeable initially, but it becomes severe if the swimmer’s ear remains untreated. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and one must know which symptoms are for mild, moderate and severe.

Symptoms of mild infection:

  • Itching in the ear canal
  • The mild red color of ear
  • Clear and Odorless fluid drainage
  • Slight discomfort

These signs of temporary hearing loss may go unnoticed as the pain is not realized. People mistook fluid drainage for water pouring after a day of swimming or exposure to water.

People with a high tolerance may not even notice it. You may suffer from the moderate painful bout of swimmer’s ear, which comes with the following symptoms that are more progressive and painful:

  • Increased pain in and around the ear
  • Inability to hear properly
  • The bright red color in the ear
  • Fluid drainage from the ear
  • Leakage of fluid (a perilymph fistula) in the ear
  • Itching with more discomfort

These symptoms should not be ignored, but some people confuse it with a mild ear infection. Consult a doctor as soon as you notice these symptoms.

Symptoms could get worse leading to the severe bout of swimmer’s ear which can be very painful. The symptoms may migrate to the other parts of the body and are not easily missed.

Consult the doctor as soon as you notice the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Ear Pressure
  • Severe pain in the ear
  • Hearing difficulty
  • Ear canal blockage
  • Swelling of the inner or outer ear
  • Redness in and around the ear
  • Swelling of lymph node
  • Pain that migrates to the cheek, head, neck or even to the face

Even if the symptoms are mild, not much bothering, consult a doctor. Another major reason to consult a doctor is that swimmer’s ear can lead to further health complication if ignored, such as tinnitus.

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Treatment Of Swimmer’s Ear

The treatment is really straightforward. In the treatment of Swimmer’s Ear, a person needs to consult a doctor first instead of cleaning the infection on their own.

People usually make it worse by pushing the ear wax on their own which causes the bacteria to spread. Therefore, as a result, infection becomes much worse.

The doctor cleans the ear through mild suction. This suction removes all the obstructions of the eardrum like dirt, grime, and earwax.

After clearing the ear from the dirt, your doctor determines the infection. And depending on the ear infection he/she will prescribe you an antibacterial ear drops.

These ear drops remove the bacteria. In some of the cases, your doctor might prescribe antibiotics to fight the bacteria from reoccurring. And in case the infection is fungal, medication is given.

Sometimes infections also cause pain which transfers from the face into the neck. Therefore, most of the doctors in case of pain also prescribe certain over-the-counter medications.

However, there are no antibiotics to fight the pain but such medications help in reducing the pain. But before taking any type of medication at home with anything, consult your doctor first.

In the treatment of swimmer’s ear, few things people need to remember some points such as no more swimming, no flying, no diving.

Use of earphones or hearing aid is also not prescribed until the infection is gone. Your doctor will also teach you ways how to soak a cotton ball in vaseline to prevent water from entering the ear.

Mildly acidic solutions containing boric or acetic acid are effective in treating early infections. If consulting an otolaryngologist, they treat allergies and can prescribe an eardrop, cream, or ointment to treat the problem.

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Tips For Preventing Swimmer’s ear

  • Remove all the moisture from your ear after bathing or swimming. For that use a towel.
  • Wear earplugs whenever going swimming especially if you are engaged in water sports.
  • Get your ears clean time-to-time by an ENT doctor. Avoid doing it yourselves as you could eliminate necessary earwax covering needed to repel irritation.
  • Tilt your head on both sides to drain excess water from the ear.
  • Hairdryer at a low setting can be helpful to ease the moisture from the ear.
  • Don’t use anything to clean your ear especially cotton swab. It can cause cut or scratch, push wax, water, dirt or germs into the eardrum, leading to infection.

People are familiar with the term “swimmer’s ear”, but there is a lack of precise knowledge about it. How it affects the hearing and what are its causes.

Now is the time to get yourself educated about it and its importance for your future health.

You can purchase the latest hearing aids at a fair price through HearingSol, If you need any assistance or you have a query regarding Swimmer’s Ear or Hearing Loss, feel free to call us at 1800-121-4408. We are always here to help you.

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Read also: How to prevent ear pain

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