What's Going Around: swimmer's ear - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

What's Going Around: swimmer's ear

Dr. Brad LeBert with ENT & Allergy Clinic says the incidence of swimmer's ear rises in the summer months.  (Source: KPLC) Dr. Brad LeBert with ENT & Allergy Clinic says the incidence of swimmer's ear rises in the summer months. (Source: KPLC)

Summertime and swimming: the two go hand-in-hand and that unfortunately brings on a common reason for patients to see ear, nose, and throat doctors like Brad LeBert at ENT & Allergy Clinic in Lake Charles.  

Dr. LeBert says the number of patients presenting with the painful ear infection, swimmer's ear, rises with the summer heat.

"We really do see a peak incidence in the summertime, when there's a lot more people headed to the pools and the lakes and the waterways," said Dr. LeBert.  "The warmer the weather, the higher the incidence we typically see of this particular problem."

Unlike an infection of the middle ear, Dr. LeBert says swimmer's ear happens when bacteria grow in the ear canal.

"When water gets in here, it gets stuck around wax or just irritates the ear canal," he said.  "The ear canal swells and that's when you start to get some small cracks in the tissue that serve as a harbor for infection, which is what leads to outer ear infections or swimmer's ear."

Swimmer's ear can start out with mild symptoms, but quickly escalate to pain, itching, redness, and drainage.

"Usually if the drainage persists for more than a day or the child complains for more than a day or you start to see some swelling of the ear canal itself, that's when we really start thinking that it's time to seek medical attention," said Dr. LeBert.

Over-the-counter swimmer's ear drops can help treat the infection by acidifying the ear and killing the bacteria, but in some cases, Dr. LeBert says prescription ear drops are needed.
"There's also several prescription ear drops that can be prescribed that are treated with antibiotics," said Dr. LeBert, " s well as a steroid to help calm things down much quicker."

Preventing swimmer's ear starts with keeping the outer ear dry.  Dr. LeBert says a half and half solution of one part vinegar/one part rubbing alcohol can be put into the ear, to help dry it out.

You can also use a hairdryer on the low setting, about 12 inches from the ear.

The hallmark sign of swimmer's ear in children, regardless of whether or not they have ear tubes, is tenderness when moving the ear.

If you are diabetic or immunocompromised, it is important that you see a doctor for ear infections.  There is a life-threatening complication that can arise if left untreated.

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