Chronic swimmer’s ear occurs if the outer ear and ear canal becomes infected, irritated or swollen on a long-term basis.
The water that is trapped inside the ear after swimming is often the cause. The ear structure provides a dark, damp area where bacteria and fungi can thrive and trigger an infection.
The condition typically affects children and teenagers, particularly those who regularly swim. Most cases of swimmer’s ear are acute and respond to treatment in 1-2 weeks. The condition is considered chronic if it does not settle or recurs several times.
What are the indications?
Chronic swimmer’s ear starts with symptoms of an acute case such as:
- Itchiness within the ear or ear canal
- Diminished level of hearing
- Ear pain that worsens when tugging on the outside of the ear or while chewing
- Sensation that the ear is blocked or stuffed
- Drainage of pus or fluid from the ear
- Enlarged lymph nodes around the ear
The condition is considered a chronic case if the symptoms arise repeatedly or persists for more than 3 months.
Management of chronic swimmer’s ear
Prior to treatment, the doctor will clear any drainage or debris present in the ear. This involves using a suction or an ear curette with a scoop on the end.
In most cases, treatment is started with antibiotic eardrops to cure the bacterial infection. If the ear is significantly swollen, the doctor might insert a cotton or gauze wick into the ear to allow the eardrops to move into the ear canal.
The treatment with antibiotic eardrops lasts for 10-14 days. It is vital to complete the prescribed course even if the pain and symptoms settle.
Other treatment options include:
- Corticosteroids to reduce the inflammation
- Antifungal eardrops for cases caused by fungi
- Vinegar eardrops to restore the normal balance of bacteria in the ear
- Pain medications to lessen the discomfort or pain
Oral antibiotics might be given if eardrops are not effective.