Careful tips for keeping your ears protected at the lake or pool.
There’s nothing like a dip in the pool or lake on a hot summer’s day! But that fun and relaxation can end up spoiled by swimmer’s ear, a common problem that can cause infection and discomfort.
While this condition is treatable, there are many things you can do to prevent these issues.
Learning how to protect your ears from water while swimming is a crucial step to avoid ear infections and care for your hearing health.
Swimmer’s ear: Causes and symptoms
It doesn’t matter if you are swimming in a lake, pool, ocean, or even just enjoying a soak in a hot tub; when your ears are exposed to water, the water can get trapped in the ear canal. This moisture, combined with the warmth of the ear, creates the ideal conditions for bacterial growth.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 2.4 million cases of swimmer’s ear are treated in the United States each year. The most common symptoms of this condition include:
- Ear pain
- Discharge from the ear
- Outer ear redness
- Swollen neck glands
- Muffled hearing
- Temporary hearing loss
- Feeling like the ear is plugged
Symptoms start as a mild inconvenience, but the infection can worsen and lead to severe pain if left untreated.
Tips for protecting your ears
The key to preventing swimmer’s ear is to keep water out of the ears when swimming and dry out the ear canal as soon as possible when you get out of the water. Whether you are prone to earaches or not, follow these tips to prevent infection:
- Wear earplugs: Buy earplugs designed for swimmers, made of silicone putty to keep the water out of the ear canal. You can find a variety of specialty products, but most people benefit from using basic, moldable earplugs that adjust to the unique shape of your ear.
- Dry the ear canal: When you get out of the water, use a towel to dry the outside areas of the ears carefully. Some people find it helpful to tip their head to one side and then the other side to let the water drain out. If you still feel moisture inside your ears, you can try using a hand dryer on a low or fan setting, holding it about a foot away from the ear. The warm breeze can dry out the affected areas. Do not stick anything (like a cotton swab) into your ear to dry it out.
- Be careful with sunscreen: You don’t have to submerge your ears in water to develop an infection. Other liquids, such as sunscreen and sweat, can collect in the ear canal and lead to issues. Be careful to keep these things out of the ear canal as well, by applying sunscreen carefully or wearing a headband while exercising to absorb sweat and showering off afterward.
- Use ear drops: If you swim a lot or frequently experience irritation, talk to your healthcare provider about using over-the-counter or prescription ear drops. However, if you’ve had ear surgery or a perforation in the eardrum, they’ll likely advise against using ear drops since they could drain deeper into your ear than they’re supposed to and cause further issues.
If you wear hearing aids or other devices, make sure to keep them out of the water if they aren’t waterproof. Even water-resistant hearing aids can hold onto the moisture, impacting their function and possibly leading to an ear infection. If your hearing aids have been exposed to moisture, give them time to dry or use a dehumidifier to speed up the drying process.
For more tips on caring for your hearing health while maintaining an active lifestyle, keep reading the CapTel blog!