While most focus on safety in and on the water, its often forgotten to be mindful of the water related ear problems that happen every summer, most of which are unavoidable and random. It can be confusing as a patient trying to decide if and when its necessary to have your ear checked out by a ENT physician.
Otitis externa (“swimmer’s ear”), is easily the most frequently seen ENT problem related to water activities. It accounts for numerous office visits in an ENT practice, as well as in primary care offices and express clinics/urgent care centers. Pain in the ear with blockage and often drainage are common symptoms of this problem. The ear is usually very sensitive to pressure or pulling on the outside of the ear. While this condition often clears up with the use of antibiotic ear drops, especially when addressed early in its course, it can sometimes be a complicated problem to alleviate and could call for careful cleaning with an ENT physician. It is basically a localized infection in and on the skin of the ear canal, which could involve bacteria or fungi.
With diving, body surfing and high-speed activities, water injuries (especially to the ear drum) can occur, and we see and treat them regularly. The surface of water can “slap” the ear when someone lands awkwardly, especially at high speeds or from greater heights, and send a pressure wave toward the eardrum, which can injure it. This does not always cause a hole or perforation in the eardrum, but it certainly can. If this type of injury is followed with lingering alteration of hearing, pain or drainage beyond 24 hours, scheduling an appointment with ENT physician may be needed for a careful examination of the ears. Majority of injured eardrums will heal on their own and do not require any treatment; however, the eardrum may require attention at the time of injury to avoid failed healing and a bigger procedure later.
A similar blow to the ear accompanied by significant dizziness can represent a far more serious condition requiring immediate attention. While mild disorientation and brief dizziness may seem normal, any severe and prolonged dizziness should be evaluated as soon as possible, to be ensure a potentially dangerous injury behind the eardrum has not occurred. Thankfully, these more severe injuries are far less common.