An Express Tip from Dr. Latimer

It is hot and the summer is here. Some of the most common summer complaints are annoying ear pain, ear clogging, and decreased hearing. These complaints are common regardless of age. The problems that start in the ear vary and one should seek medical attention as soon as possible to quickly treat the condition.

Usually, there are four basic problems that are common with situations pertaining to the ear: (1) swimmer’s ear (2) skin infection due to improper use of a Q-tip (3) inner ear infection due to prolonged congestion, and (4) pain in the ear from mucus build up. While the last two are more common in the winter months, the first two are symptoms that are felt around the summer months.

In the summer, it is common for patients to come into the doctor’s office and complain about swimmer’s ear or otitis externa, a painful condition usually due to underwater swimming. This pain is caused by water getting trapped in the ear canal and forming an infection. This can be extremely painful and it will hurt to put your head on a pillow or put your cell phone up to your ear. ?The proper treatment involves antibiotic ear drops and occasional flushing of the debris in the ear. If not treated properly the infection in the ear may worsen. There are preventative measures that can be performed. Using earplugs while swimming or using over the counter ear dry products is helpful, especially when swimming for long periods of time or for several days in a row.

No matter what time of the year cerumen impaction or the plugging of the ear canal with wax is common. This occurs either naturally by the curvature of the ear canal or when someone uses a Q-tip and pushes soft wax back into the ear causing it to harden and plug up. The cause is attributed to the moisture causing the wax that is present to expand and act like a cork in the ear canal. Though some over the counter medicines are available and can assist in improving the situation, often times professional curetting and irrigating is necessary for the clearance of symptoms. If this has happened before then you are more prone to it happening again and prevention can be obtained by avoidance of Q tip use and regular/periodic use of over the counter earwax removal systems that prevent buildup.

The change in seasons brings about flus, colds, and other sicknesses which can cause congestion. During this season inner ear infections or otitis media are common. Otitis media is a painful ear infection that can occur from prolonged congestion. This in particular is much more common in children than in adults. Medical professionals usually treat this with anti-inflammatory medications for pain like ibuprofen and antibiotics.

Another painful inner ear condition, which is not infectious, is called serous otitis. This is something that occurs when mucus builds in the inner ear causing pressure on the eardrum. This pressure can be quite painful especially when chewing or yawning. Generally the pain is transient rather than constant. Because this is not an infectious condition, treatment is usually geared toward reducing the cause of the congestion. This is most commonly experienced during allergy season or when prolonged congestion occurs from colds.

Because diagnosis and treatment for ear pain can be so varied consulting a doctor is always recommended.