As more and more people hit the beach or pool in an attempt to stay cool this summer, they may get an earful—of water, that is. And that earful just may cause swimmer’s ear.
But Dr. Ted Benke of Benke Ear, Nose & Throat Clinic has some tips and a home remedy to help.
“Water can get into the ear for a variety of reasons,” Benke said. “It’s not just after swimming; it can be after washing your hair or simply showering. Usually the water runs back out and the ear dries out, but if it doesn’t the ear can stay soggy and that’s when bacteria and fungi grow and flourish and cause problems.”
Benke said symptoms of swimmer’s ear may include an ear that feels blocked or itchy, or the ear may begin draining a runny milky liquid.
“The ear can become painful and tender to touch, especially on the cartilage in front of the ear canal. And sometimes, the ear can become so swollen that it can swell shut.”
If a person is experiencing those symptoms or if the glands in the neck become swollen, Benke says it’s time to call your doctor.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, however,” Benke said. “If your ear feels like it has water in it after swimming or showering or if it feels blocked, try this home remedy.
“Make a solution of a 1:1 ratio of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar and put it into a dropper. The alcohol will evaporate the water and the vinegar kills the germs. Then, tilt your head sideways with the ear up, pull the ear upward and backward and put a drop in each ear.”
A dry ear is much less likely to get infected, he said, but he insists there are better ways to dry the ear than using a cotton swab.
“You shouldn’t use Q-tips because they pack material deeper in the narrow ear canal, irritate the thin skin of the canal and can make it weep or bleed.”
If swimmer’s ear is a recurrent problem, Benke recommends putting oily or lanolin ear drops in the ears prior to swimming to protect them from the effects of the water.
“If you have an ear infection or have had a perforated eardrum or otherwise injured eardrum or have had ear surgery, it’s best to consult an ear, nose and throat specialist before swimming or using any type of eardrops.”
Benke said people with itchy, flaky ears or ears that have wax build up are more likely to get swimmer’s ear.
“Those people need to be especially conscientious about using the alcohol ear drops whenever water gets trapped in their ears. It may also help for them to have their ears cleaned out each year before the swimming season begins.”
Another ear problem that he sees a lot, Benke said, is itchy ears.
“Itchy ears are a common complaint, I hear, and they can be very frustrating. Sometimes it’s caused by fungus or allergies, but most commonly, it is a chronic dermatitis or skin inflammation of the ear canal. One type is a condition similar to dandruff. The wax is dry and flaky—and there’s lots of it. I tell patients to avoid foods that aggravate it, like greasy foods, sugars, starches and chocolate.”
Benke said that although there is no cure, it can be controlled by a cortisone eardrop used at bedtime when the ears itch.
For more information or an appointment with Benke Ear, Nose & Throat Clinic, call 817-641-3750.