Swimmer’s Ear Treatment and Symptoms

Acute external otitis or otitis externa – more commonly known as swimmer’s ear – is an infection that strikes the outer ear canal, the area outside the eardrum. It is termed swimmer’s ear because it routinely develops because of liquid staying in the ears after swimming which provides a wet environment which encourages the growth of microbes. It may also be brought on by sticking your fingers, Q-tips, or other foreign objects into the ears, because they can scratch or injure the sensitive ear canal lining, making it prone to infection. Fortunately swimmer’s ear is readily treated. If untreated, swimmer’s ear can cause severe complications so it is important to recognize the symptoms of the condition.

Swimmer’s ear occurs because the ear’s natural defenses (glands that secrete a water-repellant, waxy film called cerumen) have become overwhelmed. Bacteria establish themselves and begin to multiply in the ears for numerous different reasons including excess moisture or damage to the lining of the ear canal. The activities that increase your chance of developing swimmer’s ear include swimming (naturally, particularly in untreated water such as that found in lakes), overly aggressive cleaning of the ear canal with cotton swabs or other objects, use of devices that sit inside the ear such as “ear buds” or hearing aids, and allergies.

The most typical symptoms of swimmer’s ear are itching in the ear canal, mild pain gets worse by pulling on your ear, a mild redness inside the ear, and mild drainage of a clear, odorless fluid. In more moderate cases, these problems may progress to more intense itching, pain, and discharge of pus. Extreme cases of swimmer’s ear are accompanied by symptoms such as fever, severe pain which may radiate into other parts of the head, neck and face, swelling redness of the outer ear or lymph nodes, and possibly blockage of the ear canal. Side effects may include short-term hearing loss, long-term infection of the outer ear, bone and cartilage loss, and deep-tissue infections that may spread to other parts of the body and reduce the effectiveness of the body’s immune system. Therefore, if you have any of these signs or symptoms, even if mild, see your doctor.

During your appointment, the physician will look for signs of swimmer’s ear with an otoscope, which allows them to peer deep into your ear canal. The doctor will also check at the same time to see if there is any harm to the eardrum itself. Doctors generally treat swimmer’s ear first by cleaning the ears thoroughly, and then by prescribing ear drops to remove the infection. If the infection is serious, your doctor can also prescribe antibiotics taken orally to help combat it.

You can help to protect against swimmer’s ear by keeping your ears dry after bathing or swimming, by avoiding swimming in untreated water, and by not inserting foreign objects in your ears in an attempt to clean them.

Irreversible Hearing Loss May One Day Not Be So Permanent: Promising Research Into Inner Ear Hair Cell Regeneration

As hearing professionals, one of the sometimes frustrating things we encounter in our practice is that the conditions that have caused hearing loss in our patients can’t be reversed. For example, one of the most common causes of hearing loss is damage to the miniature, sensitive hair cells that line the inner ear and vibrate in response to sound. What we think of as hearing are the translations of these vibrations into electrical impulses which are sent to and interpreted in the brain.

The fact is that, the same sensitivity of these hair cells that allows them to react to sounds and translate them into electrical impulses that our brains perceive as hearing also makes them fragile, and vulnerable to damage. The hair cells of the inner ear can sustain damage from exposure to loud noises (causing noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL), by certain drugs, by infections, and by aging. The hair cells in human ears cannot be regenerated or “fixed” after they have become damaged or destroyed. Instead, hearing professionals and audiologists must use technologies such as hearing aids or cochlear implants to compensate for hearing loss that is essentially irreversible.

This would not be true if humans were more like chickens and fish. In contrast to humans, some fish species and birds have the ability to regenerate their damaged inner ear hair cells and recover their lost hearing. Strange, but true. Zebra fish and chickens are just two examples of species that have the capacity to automatically replicate and replace their damaged inner ear hair cells, thus permitting them to fully recover from hearing loss


While it is crucial to state at the outset that the following research is in its early stages and that no practical benefits for humans have yet been achieved, considerable breakthroughs in the treatment of hearing loss may come in the future as the result of the groundbreaking Hearing Restoration Project (HRP). This research, financed by the nonprofit Hearing Health Foundation, is presently taking place at 14 labs in Canada and the United States. Researchers included in the HRP are working to isolate the molecules that allow the inner ear hair cells in some animals to replicate themselves, with the eventual goal of finding some way to enable human hair cells to do the same thing.

This work is painstaking and demanding. Researchers need to sift through the many compounds active in the regeneration process – some of which facilitate replication while others impede it. By pinpointing which of the molecules regulate this process in avian or fish cochlea, the researchers are hoping to establish which compounds stimulate hair cell growth. The HRP researchers are taking a divide and conquer approach to attain their joint goal. While some labs pursue gene therapies others focus on approaches using stem cells.

Although this research is still in the early stages, our team wishes them swift success so that their results can be extended to humans. Absolutely nothing would be more thrilling than to be able to offer our hearing loss patients a true cure.

Replace or Repair a Broken Hearing Aid?

One of the most frequent questions we hear is, “My hearing aid is broken or is not working the way it used to – do you think I should replace it and buy a new one, or have it fixed?” Presented with only that limited information, we have to answer truthfully, “That depends.” It is really an individual choice, and the “best answer” is as individual as the individuals who ask it.

It’s worth stating upfront, that all hearing aids, without regard for their initial price or quality, should be expected to break down sooner or later. The surroundings that hearing aids operate in – your ear canals – is a hostile one for complex electronic instruments, filled with ear wax (cerumen) and moisture. Ear wax is natural and necessary because it guards the sensitive lining of the outer ear, but it can be hard on hearing aids; water that is left in the ears after showering or swimming can be even tougher on them. Beyond the hostile environment, accidental breakage from falls, and wear and tear of parts both play a role in declining performance. You should be expecting that your hearing aids will need replacement or repair sooner or later. They won’t keep going indefinitely.

Probably the major factor you should consider when making the “repair or replace” decision is how you feel about your present hearing aids – do you like them, and the sound quality they deliver? If you like them and are familiar with the sound that they generate or really like how they fit, repair could be the more sensible choice for you.

A second thing to consider, naturally, is cost – while a new pair of hearing aids may cost thousands, your current aids may cost only a couple of hundred dollars to repair. Countering this, however, many people have insurance that will partly or fully cover the expense of new hearing aids, but which won’t cover fixing them.

If you decide to go after a repair, the next natural question is “Should I return them to where I bought them?”While internet advertisers will try paint your hometown hearing specialist as just a middle-man, that isn’t correct. There are numerous benefits of staying nearby. Your local hearing instrument specialist will be able to establish if repairs are genuinely necessary, may be able to make minor repairs themselves, or have connections with local craftsmen that work on your brand of hearing aid so you will lessen the length of time you are without it.For hearing aids that do need lab or manufacturer repairs, the clinic will handle all the paperwork for you. Do not assume the price will be higher for these value-added services, because audiologists deal with repair labs in bulk.

If you choose to replace your hearing aids, more options are available to you. Take some time to understand the technological advances since the last time you purchased and be open to newer models. Newer hearing aid models may have features that interest to you, and can be finely adjusted to match your individual hearing needs. So the decision whether to “replace or repair” is still yours, but we hope this advice will assist you.

Could Hearing Loss be an Indicator of Alzheimer’s?

For those of you who’ve suffered some form of hearing impairment, do you ever find yourself needing to work really hard to understand what’s being said to you or around you? This is a sensation that happens even to people wearing hearing aids, because in order for them to perform well you need to have [...]

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How Musicians Can Reduce the Chances of Future Hearing Problems

Brian Wilson, Neil Young, Pete Townshend and Barbra Streisand – what trait do these diverse musicians all share? As a result of years of performing, they all have permanent hearing loss. When I treat musicians, I have to tell them a sad but unavoidable fact of life – the very music they love to play [...]

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Crowded Rooms, Background Noise and Your Hearing

Patients often ask why hearing in crowds of people is especially tough for them. They report that they don’t seem to have any problem hearing people and understanding what they say when they are speaking to them one-on-one, or even in small groups. But in a crowd, such as a noisy party or in large [...]

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Shopping for a Compatible Hearing Aid / Cellular Phone Combination

Hearing aids have not previously always worked effectively with cellular phones, because of electronic interference between the two devices that caused static, whizzing or squealing noises, or lost words. Technology improvements along with new regulations have mostly eliminated this problem. Today cell phone – hearing aid compatibility isn’t the huge problem it used to be. [...]

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