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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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People’s Pharmacy: Dealing with swimmer’s ear

By Joe Graedon, M.S., , Teresa Graedon and Ph.D. King Features Syndicate

Q. Do you know of any good, safe ways of dealing with swimmer’s ear? I can usually feel it coming on (often within a couple of days of clearing out earwax or swimming in a lake or pond). I’d like to be able to clear it up before I need to see a doctor and get some antibiotics.

A. When water gets trapped in the ear, it can lead to an infection in the outer ear. This is called otitis externa, or more commonly swimmer’s ear. It often occurs after getting water in the ear or injuring it with a cotton swab or fingernail.

To tell if the pain is from the outer ear or from the middle ear (behind the eardrum), pull gently on the earlobe. This will increase the pain from swimmer’s ear but won’t change the pain from a middle ear infection (otitis media).

If you have pain from swimmer’s ear, you need to see a doctor. Prescription eardrops containing a corticosteroid and an antibiotic or an antifungal agent can clear up such infections quickly.

Prevention is your best medicine, though. Rinsing the ear with a few drops of a solution of half white vinegar and half rubbing alcohol can help dry out excess moisture after swimming.

Q. More than a decade ago, I had a colonoscopy. Not liking that procedure, I chose to use Cologuard at the usual recommended 10-year retest. Both times, the tests were negative. Now, three years later, I asked my doctor to give me a referral to a gastroenterologist for my next Cologuard. She hemmed and hawed about the use of Cologuard, finally stating that her medical group is no longer using Cologuard because of “the inability to correlate the information provided by that test with the outcomes of a colonoscopy.”

My only option if I want a noninvasive screening would be to use an immunochemical fecal occult blood test yearly. Is this test reliable?

A. People at high risk of colorectal cancer due to family history or previous polyps should have regular colonoscopies. Other folks may benefit from a FIT (fecal immunochemical test). This over-the-counter home test reveals blood in the stool. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (Feb. 26, 2019) showed that such tests detect up to 80% of cancers.

A colonoscopy detects up to 95% of colorectal cancers. FIT can be adjusted to pick up 91% of tumors, but it also will flag false positive cases. Anyone who tests positive on a FIT will need a follow-up colonoscopy.

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