May 25, 2011
It’s not summer yet, but pools are opening across the nation and people are off to the beaches for fun in the sun. Sunburns, strains, sprains, and swimmer’s ear are on my top 10 list for summer ailments.
In an article published today in MedPage Today, a medical newspaper, the author states: “Though preventable and generally mild, acute otitis externa (AOE), or swimmer’s ear, costs around $500 million in direct healthcare costs and 600,000 clinician hours annually, researchers found.” These figures just blew me away. Who would have guessed that our country spends $500 million dollars a year on a preventable disease as trivial as swimmer’s ear?
According to the article, “Piercefield and colleagues noted several important steps to prevent AOE:
- Keeping ears as dry as possible when swimming
- Drying ears thoroughly after swimming or showering
- Not putting objects, such as cotton-tip swabs and fingers, in ears
- Not removing ear wax
- Consulting a healthcare professional if the ear canal becomes blocked
- Consulting a healthcare professional about using ear drops after swimming
- Consulting a healthcare professional if ears become itchy, flaky, swollen, painful, or have drainage
- Asking a pool or hot tub operator if pH levels are checked at least twice daily”
These preventative steps are sound and helpful. In medical school, my ENT professor said he gave thanks to the makers of Q Tips on a daily basis as they had put his children through college. Cleaning the outer ear is permissible but nothing should be placed in the canal. Putting an object into the ear canal is much like using a ramrod on a muzzle loading rifle; it just packs the canal with wax and debris.
Equally as harmful as using any solid object in the ear is using over-the- counter drops or cleansing devices. I have seen major injuries (ruptured eardrums and severe infections) as a result of patients trying to treat a presumed ear problem without seeing a doctor. A brief office visit can save a great deal of pain and money.
Have a great summer! Use high end sunscreens, sunglasses, and stay hydrated. Limit beer and alcohol, watch your calories, and see your doc if moderation fails.