Living in Thailand is great for those of us who enjoy swimming and water sports
But the hot and tropical climate doesn’t mean that you are safe from "swimmer’s ear syndrome" or otitis.
Swimmer’s ear or otitis externa is an inflammation, irritation or infection of the skin of the outer ear canal. After swimming or showering, water remaining in the ear leaves the ear canal moist, making it a good environment for bacterial growth. Rubbing the ear with a finger or using cotton tips to clean the ears lead to abrasions of the ear canal skin. Bacteria then invade the skin and cause infection of the ear canal or swimmer’s ear. Swimming in polluted water and excessive cleaning worsen the infection.
Symptoms of swimmer’s ear start with itching and mild discomfort, then progress to pain, swelling and redness in the ear, feeling of fullness or a blocked ear, fluid (pus) drainage from the ear, lymph node swelling and fever. The diagnosis is made by history, symptoms and ear examination. Pain, redness or swelling of the outer ear canal leads to the diagnosis of otitis externa (swimmer’s ear). However, in recurrent infections, the doctor may collect discharge from the ear canal for culture to identify the causative bacteria. Treatment for swimmer ears includes cleaning of the ear canal, application of eardrops that inhibit bacterial or fungal growth and reduce swelling, and/or oral antibiotics. Pain relief medication may be given to minimise the discomfort.
As with all infections, prevention is better than cure. Below are some tips that should keep you safe from otitis externa.
1. Keep your ear dry because a dry ear is unlikely to become infected. Tip your head to the side to drain water out of your ear after swimming and showering. Swim mould can also be used to prevent water to the ear.
2. Do not swim in polluted water.
3. Do not put anything into your ear including finger, cotton, cloth or paper.
4. If you have an ear infection, do not go swimming.
Dr Savitree Chaloryoo, is a specialist paediatric audiologist at the Hearing Center, on the third floor of Samitivej Srinakarin Hospital. She can be contacted at (02) 378 9000.