Whether you’re an Olympic swimmer or prefer to stay in the shallow end, you’re likely familiar with swimmer’s ear. As indicated by the condition’s nickname, swimmer’s ear is often the result of prolonged contact with water. The infection, also referred to as otitis externa, generally occurs when water becomes trapped in the ear canal. Though a high percentage of these cases occur among swimmers, the condition can affect anyone.
Swimmer’s ear occurs when the layer of skin protecting the outer ear canal is damaged and infection occurs. Damage to your skin lining can be caused by the incorrect use of cotton swabs, chemical exposure to the ear or inserting common devices, such as headphones or hearing aids. Existing skin conditions or inflammation can also increase the chances of infection. When a break in the skin lining occurs, water may become trapped in the ear canal and lead to bacterial or fungi growth.
Symptoms associated with swimmer’s ear include redness, earache, itching and drainage. You may also notice a blocked or muffled sensation in your ear. Pain can develop gradually over a couple of days and may be exasperated by talking or chewing. If you experience symptoms associated with swimmer’s ear, it is best to seek treatment from a medical professional. Even mild symptoms should be addressed, as these are likely to worsen over time. If your symptoms are accompanied by a fever, dizziness, double vision or excessive redness and swelling, contact your doctor immediately. Likewise, individuals with diabetes or reduced immunity are at a higher risk of complications and should seek immediate medical attention.
To reduce the risk of swimmer’s ear, we recommend taking the following precautions:
Use protection. The use of earplugs or swim caps will protect your ear canals from moisture and reduce the chance of fungal or bacterial growth.
Put down the cotton swab. Using a cotton swab to remove earwax can push wax further into the ears and result in puncturing the skin lining your canal.
Be gentle. When inserting headphones or hearing devices, take care of your ears by doing so slowly.
See a professional. Serious swimmers should consider investing in swimmer’s plugs for better protection. Your hearing health professional will fit you with plugs that are molded to fit your ears.