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In the News

Swimmer's Ear

By Dr. Victor Gong, Medical Director of 75th St. & 126th St. Medical, Ocean Pines Medical & Doctors Weight Control & Wellness centers, Ocean City, MD.

All it takes to come down with a stubborn bout of swimmer's ear is a set of ears and unrelenting moisture. “The ears are constantly bathed in water – swimming, showering, shampooing. Then people try to dry the ear with a cotton-tipped swab. That takes the top layer of skin off, along with protective bacteria. Then the bad bacteria win.”

Swimmer's ear begins as an itchy ear. Left untreated, it can turn into a full-blown infection. The pain can be excruciating. Once infection sets in, you'll need a doctor's help and a round of antibiotics to squelch it. But there are plenty of things you can do to keep from getting worse, and even more to stop it before it starts.

Eliminate the moisture in your ears every time you get them wet, whether or not you suspect an infection. Pull the flap of your ear up and out to straighten the ear canal and aim your hair dryer into your ear from 18 to 20 inches away. Use either a warm or cool setting, but let the dryer blow for 30 seconds. That will dry the ear, eliminating the moist conditions bacteria and fungi find most attractive for growth.

Go ahead and swim, but wear earplugs to keep the water out. Wax or silicone plugs can be softened and shaped to fit your ears and are available at most drugstores. And do not forget to wear those plugs while shampooing or showering, keeping the ears dry is especially important for people who are prone to ear infection.

If your ear hurts, indicating an infection, an over-the-counter painkiller such as aspirin or acetaminophen will tide you over until you can see the doctor.

A towel fresh from the dryer, a covered hot-water bottle, a heating pad set on low – also will help ease the pain.

Earwax serves several purposes, including harboring friendly bacteria. Cooperate with your natural defenses by not swabbing the wax out. Wax coats the ear canal, protecting it from moisture.

Since the irritation of swimmer's ear wears away earwax, you can manufacture your own version using petroleum jelly. Moisten a cotton ball with the jelly and tuck it gently, like a plug, just in the edge of your ear. It will absorb any moisture, keeping your ear warm and dry.

Several fluids are great for killing germs and drying your ears at the same time. If you're susceptible to swimmer's ear or if you spend a lot of time in the water, you should use a drying agent every time you get your head wet.

First, put your head down, with the affected ear up. Pull the ear upward and backward, to help straighten the canal, and squeeze a dropperful of alcohol into the ear canal. Wiggle your ear to get the alcohol to the bottom of the canal. Then tilt your head to the other side and let the alcohol drain.

Eardrops of white vinegar or equal parts of alcohol and white vinegar will kill fungus and bacteria. Mineral oil, baby oil, or lanolin can be preventive solutions before swimming. Apply as you would the alcohol.

You are less likely to pick up bacteria in a well-treated pool than you are in a pond. Do not swim in dirty water. Consult your physician if ear pain persists.

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