With summer here, many of us are diving into the pool and taking more frequent trips to the beach. Swimming is a great way to relax and get in a good workout at the same time.
But, chances are good that when you go swimming, your head will end up completely submerged underwater.
Without proper protection, this can expose your ears to water and allow moisture to enter the ear canal. Depending on the size and shape of your canal, it may not allow the water to drain well and you may have a greater chance of developing swimmer's ear.
Just like with any physical activity, it's important to take the necessary precautions to ensure you're safe while enjoying yourself.
What Is Swimmer’s Ear?
Swimmer's ear is the collection of water in the ear that doesn't drain well and can lead to otitis externa, or a type of infection in the ear canal. It's most commonly brought on by water collecting in the ear canal. This occurs as added moisture allows for a rapid growth of bacteria.
Some common symptoms of swimmer's ear are pain, itching, redness in the ear, and decreased hearing.
Although swimmer's ear is usually not too serious, it must be examined and treated properly, or it can become worse and a much more serious matter. If you believe you have swimmer's ear, it's important to contact your healthcare professional.
Steps for Prevention
There are many steps you can take to prevent this condition while still enjoying the summer and swimming.
- First, you should never stick foreign objects into your ears. Not only can this push debris and compact wax more deeply into your ear, you can also easily damage the ear canal.
- You should also avoid swimming in water that may have high bacteria levels. The higher the bacteria level, the greater the chance of infection. Unfortunately, it can often be tough to tell how dirty water may be. Some swimming spots will be clearly marked with “No Swimming” or “High Bacteria Level” signs. Many times, water with high bacteria will appear dirty or murky, but this isn't always the case. If there isn't any signage and you're unsure of the water's quality, it's best to avoid swimming in that area.
- Drying your ears immediately after swimming (or even showering) is a good habit to get into. Removing excess moisture reduces the chance of bacterial growth and therefore reduces the chance of infection.
- Finally, using swim plugs is a great way to minimize the amount of water that enters your ear while swimming. There are two types of swim plugs: one size fits all, which are sold in most retail stores, and custom-fit swim plugs, which can be made specifically for your ears by your local hearing healthcare provider.
Swim plugs are small silicone earplugs that prevent water from entering your ear canal.
It's important to remember to never use foam ear plugs as a replacement for actual swim plugs. Foam plugs are meant to block noise, not moisture; substituting one for the other can cause even more damage to your ears.
Retail swim plugs are relatively inexpensive, but they don't always create the best fit. Since these plugs are one-size-fits-all, they can easily become loose and fall out while you're swimming, exposing your ear canals and allowing water to enter.
Custom-fit swim plugs provide much better protection while you're swimming. Custom-fit plugs are created from a mold of your outer ear, which allows for a near-perfect seal. This can be done by your local audiologist or hearing healthcare professional.
Custom-fit swim plugs are made from a soft silicone that won't scratch or damage your ear. The plugs are washable and reusable, allowing for years of use and stretching your dollar further. They also float, so if one does happen to come out, it'll be easy to find.
Custom-fit swim earplugs can be created for anyone at any age. Since children are more susceptible to swimmer's ear because their smaller ear canals trap water more easily, custom earplugs can provide a much needed layer of protection. Custom earplugs are also used by children or adults that may have been recommended for dry ear precautions due to tube placement in the eardrums.
Because people swim more frequently in the summer, healthcare providers see an increase in the number of cases of swimmer's ear during those months. However, with a couple of simple preventative steps and some protective gear, you can enjoy a summer full of swimming while taking good care of your hearing health.
For more information on swimmer's ear or to get started on obtaining custom-fit swim plugs, find your local hearing healthcare provider here.