Swimmer's ear (otitis external)

This a very common infection occurring more frequently during summer months because of high humidity, heat and exposure of the ear canal to bacteria-laden waters. Swimmer's ear is actually an inflammation of the external ear canal and the (wax producing) cerumen glands that line it.

The root of the problem? It is an absence of ear wax which protects the thin skin of the ear canal both chemically and by acting as a barrier against germs. Sufferers usually complain of sharp pain in and around the ear and jaw and hearing loss. They may also have severe itching in the ear canal, which, if scratched, will worsen the condition.

Tips to prevent and treat swimmer's ear:

Avoid using cotton swabs. Cotton swabs or any other instrument can remove ear wax which normally lines and protects the delicate skin of the ear canal.

Keep your ears dry. If you develop recurrent infections due to swimmer's ear, your ear should be kept dry with either an ear plug or some cotton with Vaseline to avoid getting it wet and to prevent further infection.

If necessary, seek medical attention. Swimmer's ear is a preventable condition; however, if contracted, it can become quite painful and require the use of eardrops and oral antibiotics. If an infection develops, seek medical attention -- don't let it ruin your summer.

Avoid putting foreign objects in your ear. Never attempt to dig out excess or hardened earwax with items such as a cotton swab, paper clip or hairpin. Using these items can pack material deeper into your ear canal, irritate the thin skin inside your ear or scratch the skin.

Protect your ears. Avoid substances that may irritate your ears, such as hair sprays and hair dyes. Or put cotton balls in your ears when applying these products.