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How to Prevent Swimmer’s Ear

Even though January is one of Hawaii’s cooler months, the ocean temperatures are still warm enough to allow you to swim comfortably. This means it’s a great time of year to swim, snorkel, and surf! However, it’s important to be mindful of some of the dangers which lie just below the surface. Aside from Sharks and barracudas is swimmer’s ear!

What is Swimmer’s Ear?

Swimmer’s ear is an infection in the outer ear canal, which runs from your eardrum to the outside of your head. This common infection occurs in the outer ear when water full of bacteria sits for too long. Symptoms include redness in the ear canal, ear pain, draining fluids and discharge of pus . Untreated, the infection can spread to nearby tissue and bone. All too common and very painful, around 10 percent of people will experience swimmer’s ear at some point during their life. The good news is that with proper preventative measures you can avoid it- Here are a few tips to avoid swimmer’s ear.

Keep Your Ears Clean and Dry, Especially After Swimming

Its amazing to be immersed in the water. It can be transformative and invigorating but make sure that you dry off completely after, at least in your ears. We recommend that to make sure your ear canals are completely dry, start by tipping your head to each side until all the water has left your ear. Many recommend mixing a drop of rubbing alcohol with a drop of vinegar and putting it in your ears after swimming or bathing. This will ensure that any liquid which didn’t flow out on its own will dry up. For those who struggle with swimmers’ ear frequently this method is very effective but be careful to practice this sparingly as too much and it can dry your ear canal out to the point of chapping.

Always Maintain Proper Ear Wax Hygiene

Ear wax, technically known as cerumen is commonly regarded as a stick gross fluid, but there is a reason that its’ there. Earwax acts to lubricate the ear canal and is antimicrobial, preventing small scratches from becoming infected. In addition, it traps dirt and dust which inevitable enters the ear canal and works to move it to our outer ear. As we chew or speak, the movement of our jaw moves earwax from the inner ear to the outer.

It’s a delicate balance with earwax. Too much can cause impactions which can block the ear canal while too little can cause itchiness and increase the risk of infection. The ears are self-cleaning so in most instances we recommend wiping the outer ear after a hot shower. Many people make the mistake of attempting to clean out earwax with cotton swabs which often can increase the risk of impactions or damage to the inner ear. Earwax is water repellent so in most cases, it’s best to leave your earwax to do its thing.

Wear Earplugs While Swimming

If you find that you are struggling with frequent swimmers’ ear, it’s a good idea to invest in earplugs when swimming. Wearing earplugs help to keep water out of the ears when submerged. We recommend pliable earplugs with a tight fit, specifically for keeping water out. Don’t make the common mistake of attempting to use foam earplugs designed to lower noise exposure!

Treating Swimmer’s Ear

Swimmers’ ear causes infection, swelling, irritation and puss. It can be an incredibly painful experience. Your doctor may try a few methods to aid in clearing the infection. To address the pain, they may recommend an over the counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, which will also relieve swelling. They may need to clear out puss and infection by using a suction device or ear curette. This will also act to clean away discharge, clumps of earwax, flaky skin, and other debris.

In most cases of swimmer’s ear, your doctor will prescribe ear drops that have some combination of acidic solution to help restore your ear’s normal antibacterial environment, steroid to reduce inflammation, antibiotic to fight bacteria and antifungal medication to fight infection caused by a fungus.

Enjoy Swimming and Protect Your Ears

If you are struggling with swimmers’ ears it could note more serious issues. It can never hurt to include an assessment of your hearing to make sure everything is working fine. Don’t delay in contacting us today to schedule your next hearing exam!