It's summer, the sun is high, and the pools are open. While you and your family splash and swim, it's important to keep safety in mind not only in the pool, but after climbing out, too. Swimmer's ear is a post-swimming hazard that results in half a billion dollars in health care costs each year in the U.S. alone! Don't get caught unaware.
You or your child don't have to become one of the 2.4 million swimmer's ear cases that occur each year. Here's what you need to know to prevent swimmer's ear.
What is Swimmer's Ear?
Swimmer's ear, also known as Otits Externa, is an infection of the outer ear canal. This particular type of ear infection is caused by water sitting in the ear canal after swimming. The symptoms include itching, burning, and general pain and discomfort. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and believe you may have swimmer's ear, talk to your doctor right away.
Don't use Q-Tips (cotton swabs)!
It is never a good idea to put objects into your ears, and Q-Tips are a particularly tempting item. But those cotton swabs aren't your friends. They may look soft, but they can actually abrade the sensitive surface of the ear canal, making infection much more likely. And if you've got the entire cotton tip inside your ear, odds are good that you're already touching your own eardrum -- which is thin and easy to damage or penetrate -- and may not even know it! Also, Q-Tips can remove too much wax from the ear canal. (Ear wax actually helps prevent ear infections.)
How to Dry Ears After Swimming
Again, be cautious with putting anything in your ears after swimming (or really any other time!). The CDC recommends towel-drying the outer ear, tilting your head to the side to let water drain out, and tugging gently on your earlobe to encourage water to come out while your head is tilted. If you want to get inventive, you can also use a hair dryer to gently evaporate stubborn water in the ear -- just make sure to use the lowest heat and lowest fan settings, and don't put it closer than four or five inches away from your ear!
For very quick and safe ear drying poolside or at home, you can also use ear drops to dry out your ears. It's recommended to try the other methods -- towels and head tilting -- first, but when you've got stubborn water stuck in your ear canals, ear drops can be a great lifesaver. (Important: individuals with ear tubes should absolutely speak with their doctors before trying ear drops of any kind.) These also work for getting the ears dry after bathing, and are safe and effective for the whole family.
Check Yourself (Before You Wreck Your... Ears)
One last tip: make sure you're swimming somewhere safe. Hot tubs can be a breeding ground for single-celled critters if not maintained carefully, so check with the owner of the tub to ensure the water is clean and properly pH balanced before getting in. The same is true of a swimming pool: a proper pH balance is important to help prevent swimmer's ear, other types of ear infections, and many other potential problems. If in doubt, wait it out until you can check with someone about the balance and safety of your chosen swimming spot.
With a little care, good ear-drying habits, and some handy ear drying drops on hand just in case, you can help yourself and your whole family prevent swimmer's ear this summer. It's never too late to start practicing good ear care!
Until next time, be safe and love your ears!
Sarah Bergman, Web Developer
Ear Plug Superstore