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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, June 15, 2002

Swimmer's ear sufferers can prevent germ onset

By Landis Lum

Q. I had really painful "swimmer's ear" last weekend. What causes this, and how can I treat it in the future?

A. Swimmer's ear — known to doctors as otitis externa, or O.E.— is especially common in warm, humid climates like Hawai'i's. It is caused by the germs called Pseudomonas aeruginosa or Staphylococcus aureus.

Water in the ear canal leads to a perfect culture medium for their growth. However, the use of Q-Tips can also contribute; they can cause small cuts, resulting in a painful infection. One thing you can do is leave your ears alone. Earwax protects the skin from pathogens and contains natural antibiotics. And the skin of the canal normally grows outward, periodically dropping the earwax outside. Q-Tips often push earwax farther inside. There's good chance you have O.E. if it hurts when you pull on your ear.

Treatment involves removing moist debris from the canal, avoiding swimming during the acute infection and using antibiotic ear drops. However, acetic acid or propylene glycol eardrops worked just as well.

Dr. Landis Lum is a family practice physician with Kaiser Permanente, and an associate clinical professor at the University of Hawai'i's John A. Burns School of Medicine. Send questions to: Prescriptions, Island Life, The Honolulu Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802; e-mail ohana@honoluluadvertiser.com; fax 535-8170.