An ear infection is a general term used to describe inflammation, pain and discomfort in the ear. Though a common childhood affliction, a blockage in the middle ear, known as the auditory tube, can cause bacteria to build up and become infected. Adults rarely suffer from this form of infection. However, swimmer’s ear, which affects the ear canal, occurs more often in adulthood.
Diagnosing the Problem
According to the Mayo Clinic, swimmer’s ear can occur when bacteria gets in your ear canal from a swimming pool, lake, or ocean. You can also get swimmer’s ear by putting a contaminated object in your ear or even by just a scratch in the canal. It’s important to know that swimmer’s ear is not limited to swimmers--anyone can develop this condition. Do not hesitate to have your ear examined by your physician. Postponing treatment will put you at risk for developing serious complications. Symptoms of an ear infection are itching and redness in the canal, discomfort or pain, or an odorless fluid draining from your ear. Signs that the infection has progressed are excess fluid drainage, pus, worsening pain, a feeling of pressure and difficulty hearing.
Treating an Ear Infection
For swimmer’s ear, the Mayo Clinic recommends keeping your ears clean and free of debris—such as sand from the beach or dirt from your garden. If you feel like you have irritating earwax buildup, your doctor can use a suction tool to remove any discharge and flaked skin. Your ear won’t properly absorb medication if there is too much buildup. Your doctor may prescribe an acidic solution that mirrors the normal acidic and antibacterial environment the ear. A prescription steroid will help reduce inflammation. Antibiotics are used to fight the infection, and an antifungal drug will kill fungus.
While you have an ear infection, you’ll want to avoid flying and swimming. If your ear is releasing discharge, refrain from using earplugs and ask your doctor if it is okay to wear your hearing aid. You should never insert an object into your ear canal. Not only can it damage the delicate structure of the middle ear but it can also introduce bacteria that will exacerbate an existing condition. After bathing and showering, keep your ears dry by gently swabbing with a towel or cotton. If you feel water in your ear, tip your head to the side and gently bob it up and down until you feel the water release. The best way to avoid irritating chemicals like hair dye and hairspray from getting into your ears is by putting cotton balls in the ear canal.