How Triage Nurses Help Patients and Doctors with Common Health Concerns – Swimmers Ear

As temperatures heat up, we often think that patient phone calls decrease due to less cold and flu outbreaks. Yet, triage nurses are surprisingly busy during summer months helping avoid unnecessary ER visits. Many of the issues from patients can be resolved with detailed home care advise and a visit to their doctor. Triage nurses use standardized protocols from Dr. Schmitt and Dr. Thompson to evaluate symptoms to ensure appropriate care advice. This article covers a common patient complaint a triage nurse can get during the summer.

Swimmer’s Ear

Ear pain is a common complaint during the summer, and it is often a sign of swimmer’s ear. Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the outer ear canal which occurs when water remains trapped in the ear. It is a common infection and may result in the ear feeling full and itchy and can be extremely painful. This creates a moist environment, which aids bacterial growth.

Symptoms of swimmer’s ear include:

  •    Pain and/or itching in the affected ear. The pain gets worse when you chew or move your ear.
  •    A plugged-up feeling in the affected ear
  •    Some hearing loss
  •    Clear or pus-like drainage
  •    Swelling inside the ear and painful to the touch

Patients often think an ear infection warrants a visit to the ER or local Urgent Care; however, the majority of infections can be treated from home with the help of a telephone triage nurse.  A nurse can immediately assess the situation and let you know whether you should take your child in or give you home remedies that will help ease the pain.

Triage nurses need to know how to assess the patient through a distraught parent effectively. Communication is very difficult with children in this age group. Therefore triage nurses must be prepared to ask the right questions as the patient cannot verbally express their condition. Also, parents that call a triage nurse when their child has ear pain can be frustrated and anxious.  They don’t like seeing their child in pain and are afraid that waiting will cause hearing damage.

Swimmer’s ear is more common in children, although adults can get it too. Several things can cause swimmer’s ear, including:

  •    Swimming in unclean water can cause swimmer’s ear. Also, swimming and showering too much can cause too much water to get into your ears. Water removes earwax and wax protects your ears from germs and fungus.
  •    Cleaning your ears. This can eliminate the earwax.
  •    Injuring the skin in the ear canal. This can happen by putting your finger or an object (such as a cotton swab or a pencil) in your ear.
  •    Skin conditions (eczema or psoriasis) in other parts of the body can occur in the ear canal. This can cause an infection.
  •    Bacteria from products used in your hair (hairspray or hair dye). These products can get trapped in the ear canal.

These calls are frequent and can be triaged by a well-trained triage nurse. A seasoned triage nurse will be both empathetic and reassuring to these callers.   

Using the Schmitt and Thompson protocols, the telephone triage nurse may ask some initial questions to assess the severity of the ear pain.

Examples include:

  •    Which ear is involved?
  •    When did the ear start hurting?
  •    How bad is the pain?
  •    What do you think is causing this earache?
  •    Does your child have a runny nose or cough?
  •    Does your child have a fever?
  •    How sick is your child acting?

Swimmer’s ear is easily treated with over the counter antiseptic ear drops and may be avoided by wearing earplugs while in the water.

Nurse triage call centers like TriageLogic can customize care per practice, enabling the nurse to assist the patient even further beyond advice and alleviate for further evaluation. When the caller meets the proper medical criteria, and the practice provides special instructions, the nurse can call in a prescription for medicated ear drops and offer follow-up procedures to the patient as needed with the pediatrician.

Swimmer’s ear can be very painful. But with the help of a telephone nurse line, the patient should feel better in a few days.

TriageLogic is a URAC accredited triage nurse call center used by doctors’ offices, hospitals, and organizations and maintains one of the most sophisticated nurse triage services in the country.  Check out 10 Reasons to Outsource your Call Center to learn more about practices who delegate telephone triage to partners like TriageLogic to streamline the entire process and saving valuable time. Whether you have a busy private practice in need of a phone triage system, or a hospital seeking complete after-hours call center solutions, TriageLogic has a product to meet your needs. Please contact our dedicated care team to learn more about the options available with TriageLogic.

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