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Swimming holes, hot springs, and creeks, oh my! It is that time of the year again when there are enough sunny days to potentially squeeze in a swim or two in the Portland area. It’s also the time of the year when many families decide to take vacations to warm and sunny destinations where swimming is most certainly high on the priority list. Although taking a relaxing dip on a hot day is exciting for most, some may be a bit timid for fear of experiencing swimmer’s ear. Luckily, there are some easy steps that can be followed to help you and your family fully enjoy your watery adventures while also protecting against swimmer’s ear.
What is Swimmer’s Ear?
The scientific name for swimmer’s ear is otitis externa. This basically means an infection or inflammation of the ear canal, or the tube that runs from your outer ear to your ear drum. Otitis externa is often nicknamed “swimmer’s ear” because it is most often caused by excess water left in the ear canals after swimming. This excess water creates a prime breeding ground for bacteria that causes the redness, pain, itchiness, and general discomfort associated with swimmer’s ear.
As mentioned above, the symptoms of swimmer’s ear are a redness in the outer ear or ear canal, pain, itchiness, discomfort that is made worse by tugging on the earlobe or outer ear, odorless fluid drainage, and in more severe cases; fever and swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck.
It is important to seek treatment from a healthcare practitioner even if your symptoms are mild, as swimmer’s ear is unlikely to resolve on its own without antibiotics or other medical interventions.
Preventing Swimmer’s Ear
Luckily, there are steps you can take to reduce you or your family’s risk of developing any of these painful symptoms associated with swimmer’s ear well as a trip to the doctor’s office.
Know where is and is not safe to swim. If you choose to swim in natural bodies of water, it is important to know whether or not the levels of bacteria are safe for swimming. Often, there will be signs posted near bodies of water warning potential swimmers of dangerous bacteria levels. It is also possible to research the levels of bacteria in various swimming spots online through basic google searches. Manmade bodies of water such as pools and spas can also carry bacteria. If you are not sure these areas are clean, do not swim in them!
Wear earplugs. Earplugs are an inexpensive and are perhaps one of the most effective methods of preventing swimmer’s ear. Swimmer’s ear plugs can be purchased at sporting goods stores and even in many pharmacies. Be sure to fund earplugs that are specifically created for swimming, as earplugs that are created to block noise can actually soak up water and create an even more dangerous situation for your ears!
Drain your ears after swimming. As adults, this is something we probably do automatically when we get out of the water, but it is also a really important step in preventing swimmer’s ear. When you get out of the water, tilt your head and let gravity do the work to drain your ears. You can also pull on your earlobes at different angles to try to drain out the water. Make sure that your children also do this, even if they are planning on getting back into the water in a short period of time.
Dry your ears. You can use a clean towel to pat dry the outside of your ears. Do not attempt to roll up the corner of a towel and stick it down your ear canal. This can cause damage to the thin lining in your ear canal and can promote infection.
Use ear drops. There are many over the counter ear drops that work to dry up excess water after swimming. Most of these drops can be purchased easily at the pharmacy. If you need help finding a good one, ask your local pharmacist for assistance and let them know that you are looking to dry your ear canals after swimming to prevent swimmer’s ear.
Hearing Health in Portland
If you plan on swimming this summer, or if you’re a regular swimmer year-round, your ears could benefit from custom ear protection. At Hearing Health, we provide all manner of custom hearing protection. Contact us to learn more!