David Robertson ENT
Ears, Nose, Throat, Seasonal Tips

New ENT doctor explains a common summertime condition

Summer is here—time for sun, fun and…swimmer’s ear? Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the external ear canal that, as its name implies, often occurs among swimmers and those who spend a lot of time in the water. When water enters and remains in the outer ear canal, the moisture against the skin can create a breeding ground for bacteria. While the condition does tend to occur more frequently in the summer due to more time spent in swimming in pools, oceans and lakes, excess moisture in the ear can happen with everyday bathing or having a scrape in the ear as well.

Physician David Roberson, MD, MBA, FACS, FRCS, and his colleagues at Bayhealth ENT (Otolaryngology) specialize in conditions of the ear, nose and throat, and commonly treat swimmer’s ear in children and adults. Swimmer’s ear can be very painful and requires prompt treatment. “The external ear is the only place in the human body where skin sits directly on bone. Therefore, the skin can be easily damaged and bacteria can get in, causing an infection,” explained Dr. Roberson.

Dr. Roberson is fellowship-trained in pediatric ENT and has a clinical interest in ear disease specifically. He spent more than 20 years at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital before coming to Bayhealth so that he could be more engaged in direct patient care and community health. He said that people often confuse swimmer’s ear with middle ear infections. The term “ear infection” usually refers to infections of the middle ear behind the eardrum, whereas swimmer’s ear is an infection of the skin in the outer ear canal. Pulling on the ear is a good test to distinguish between the two conditions, he said. With swimmer’s ear, a pulling action will make it hurt more, and that is not the case with middle ear infections.  

Other common symptoms of swimmer’s ear are itching and redness in the ear, muffled hearing, or discharge of fluid or pus. If swimmer’s ear is suspected, a doctor visit is advised, as symptoms usually intensify. If left untreated, there is a risk of the infection spreading.

“Swimmer’s ear is treated with ear drops, but sometimes there is wax and buildup in the ear preventing the drops from getting in. ENT doctors are equipped to use a special vacuum-type tool to suction out the ear so it will better respond to treatment,” Dr. Roberson said. He added that drying the ears with a towel or a blow dryer on a low setting is a good preventive measure, and for those prone to getting swimmer’s ear, a solution of equal parts white vinegar and rubbing alcohol may help with drying the ear canal and keeping away the bacteria that causes it.

Dr. Roberson sees patients of all ages and is currently accepting new patients in the Bayhealth ENT, Milford practice, located at 806 Seabury Ave. in Milford, Delaware. The practice is part of the Bayhealth Medical Group, a partnership of highly trained physicians, their clinical staff, and an administrative support team that operates practices throughout central and southern Delaware.

Call 302-393-5009 to schedule an appointment at Bayhealth ENT, Milford, or visit Bayhealth's Find a Doctor page to learn more about Dr. Roberson and other specialists. 

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