The moisture can cause the skin inside the ear canal to become chafed, dry and cracked. A break in the skin may allow bacteria or (more rarely) a fungus to invade the tissue of the ear canal and cause an infection. Swimming in dirty or polluted water, therefore, is a common cause of swimmer's ear; the bacteria in the water find a hospitable home in the moist environment of an inflamed ear canal.
Skin conditions, such as seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis, and excessive or improper cleaning of wax from the ears can also lead to swimmer's ear. Not only does wax protect the ear canal from excess moisture, but it also harbors friendly bacteria. Removing this protective barrier -- particularly with hairpins, fingernails, or other objects that can scratch the skin -- makes it easier for an infection to take hold. Hair spray or hair coloring, which can irritate the ear canal, may also lead to an outer ear infection.
Symptoms are isolated to the ear and include:
- Watery discharge
- Severe pain and tenderness
- A foul-smelling, yellowish discharge
- Muffled hearing
Fortunately for those suffering from it, swimmer’s ear typically clears up quickly once treatment begins. The key is going to the doctor before the condition has the chance to get more complicated and painful. Basic treatment usually includes gentle cleansing of the ear and use of antibiotic drops. Oral antibiotics may also be prescribed by your physician.
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