Your ears are pretty remarkable. Their unique design helps to tip water out of your ear canal, so you can usually bathe, shower, swim, and even walk in the rain with no problems. The ear canal is also acidic which prevents against bacterial and fungal infections.
However, if your ear is exposed to excess moisture (like if you're swimming a lot), the water can stay trapped in your ear canal. This skin can then get soggy and break down, diluting the acidity and allowing bacteria or fungi to penetrate through the skin, causing an infection called swimmer's ear.
The weird thing is that you don't have to swim to get swimmer's ear. Anything that causes a break in the skin of your ear canal will cause this infection - that's why cleaning your ear with a cotton swab is NOT recommended - if you damage the skin, you could risk getting swimmer's ear.
What are the symptoms? PAIN! The ear may also feel itchy or full. The outer ear may turn red or get swollen, and the lymph nodes around the ear may become enlarged and tender. There may be discharge - clear at first, but then turn cloudy, yellowish, and pus-like. Hearing, understandably, is affected as well.
Fun stuff, huh? So what do you do if you have swimmer's ear? To find out,
If your infection is severe, your doctor will prescribe drops that contain antibiotics for 7-10 days to fight the infection, and steroids to reduce swelling. Oral meds like ibuprofen or aspirin may also be suggested to help reduce the pain.
Fit's Tips: To prevent this painful infection during the summer, as soon as you're done swimming, shake your head to one side and then the other to get excess water out of your ear. OTC drops that contain a dilute solution of acetic acid or alcohol can also help dry up your ear canal. If you or your child is prone to swimmer's ear, wearing ear plugs may also be a good option.