Summer swim season is here, and with it comes just a few things we all dread – like perpetually wet towels, losing our bathing suit off the diving board, and of course, swimmer’s ear. While I can’t really help you with the diving board dilemma, I can give you a few tricks and tips from my 35 plus years of swimming and coaching to help you avoid the dreaded swimmer’s ear.
Briefly, swimmer’s ear is an infection in the outer portion of the ear brought on by water trapped in the ear canal, creating a dark, moist environment in which bacteria thrive. Fortunately, there are some simple, effective ways to prevent it.
Preventing swimmer’s ear.
First and foremost, wear earplugs. While it isn’t always a perfect seal, ear plugs are the first defense against water and bacteria entering cracks in the skin of the ear canal. And while this may seem obvious, make sure you purchase earplugs designed to keep water out, instead of the foam plugs designed to minimize noise.
Second, dry your ears after you swim. First, tip your head to one side and let all the water run out. Put gravity to work for you. Repeat for the other side then use a towel to dry the area around your ears gently. Some experts recommend a hair dryer set on the coldest setting and held about 12 inches from the ear, but be careful not to let your skin get too dry and irritated, as that can allow additional bacteria entry points.
Third, consider using ear drops after you swim to help dry out the water in the ear. I use Swim Ear brand ear drops after swimming, as it is gentle on the ears and recommended by my ENT. If you suspect a ruptured eardrum, DO NOT use ear drops and always consult your physician if you have any questions about what is suitable to use.
Fourth – and as mentioned previously, this may seem obvious, but take good care of your ears when you aren’t swimming. Don’t use foreign objects like q-tips to clean your ears. Keep your skin moisturized and free of cuts and scratches. Avoid harsh chemicals by using cotton balls when using hairspray or other products.
And finally, one of my favorite little-known tips is Vick’s Vapor Rub behind the ears, NOT IN THE EARS, as a way to relieve irritation and provide a sensation of cooling. The bottom line? The best medicine is always prevention!