As the warmer weather eases into summer, people are starting to head to the pool, the lake, or the beach. Swimming is great exercise and a wonderful sport, but exposure to water for longer periods of time can lead to swimmer’s ear, an infection of the outer ear and ear canal (medically referred to as otitis externa). That’s why like with any physical activity, it’s important to take the necessary precautions to ensure you’re safe while enjoying yourself.
What are common symptoms and signs of swimmer’s ear?
Signs of mild swimmer’s ear include itching in the ear, slight pain or discomfort made worse by tugging on the ear, redness, and a colorless liquid draining from the ear. Moderate symptoms include increased itching and pain and discharge of pus-like fluids. Extreme cases of swimmer’s ear are accompanied by symptoms such as fever, severe pain which may radiate into other parts of the head, neck and face, swelling redness of the outer ear or lymph nodes, and possibly blockage of the ear canal. Side effects of untreated swimmer’s ear can be serious, including short-term hearing loss, bone and cartilage loss, long-term ear infections, and the spread of deep-tissue infections to other areas of the body.
Steps to Prevent & Avoid Swimmer’s Ear
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 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. Medicated ear drops are available that can help absorb any excess water.
- Hearing aids can push earwax further into the ear canal, so if you wear a hearing aid make sure you remove it as much as possible. They can create moisture on hot days, so take them out, so your ear has a chance to dry out.
- Finally, using swimming earplugs 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 swimming earplugs, which can be made specifically for your ears by your local hearing healthcare provider.
Although swimmer’s ear is usually not too serious, it must be examined and treated properly by a healthcare professional, or it can become worse and a much more serious matter. If you believe you or a loved has swimmer’s ear or if you would like to get started on obtaining custom-fit swimming earplugs, contact us at Hearing Solutions, Inc to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced hearing care professionals.