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When the summer rolls around, both kids and adults want to enjoy the sunshine by heading out to the water. While a day spent swimming can provide soothing relief on a hot day, it can also be a time to develop a condition called swimmer’s ear – an infection occurring in the ear canal caused by water getting trapped, resulting in bacteria growth which causes pain and discomfort.
From chronic ear infections to hearing loss, our physicians at the Pediatric ENT Associates in Birmingham, Alabama have the expertise and experience to accurately diagnose a condition and create an individualized treatment plan for their patients. While we do not treat swimmer’s ear specifically, we can successfully provide solutions to cases with chronic problems, especially when ear tubes are necessary. Our physicians are also active members of interdepartmental programs at Children’s of Alabama, providing a comprehensive and thorough approach to patient care.
Who Can Get Swimmer’s Ear?
Formally called otitis externa, swimmer’s ear got its nickname from the fact that the infection commonly affects those who spend a lot of time in the water, such as swimmers. Studies have also shown that earaches and outer ear infections are commonly associated with swimming. However, since swimmer’s ear occurs when the water lingers in the ear canal, you don’t have to swim regularly to get the infection. That means you can develop swimmer’s ear from taking baths, showers, washing your hair, or even being in a humid environment (one reason why it’s more common in the summer). And while both adults and children can get it, children have ear canals that are shorter, narrower, and less angled than adults’ ears, making them more susceptible to swimmer’s ear as well as other kinds of ear infections. To learn more about swimmer’s ear, visit ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Tips For Preventing Swimmer’s Ear This Summer
Because adults and kids swim more frequently in the summer, there is naturally an increase in swimmer’s ear cases during those months. But by taking some simple preventative steps, you can still enjoy a summer that’s full of water activities while taking proper care of your ear health.
Dry your ears immediately after swimming or showering
You want to keep your ears as dry as possible. Removing excess moisture will reduce the chance of bacterial growth and, therefore, will lower your risk for developing an infection. To dry your ears after swimming or showering, you can place a cotton ball in the ear (but do not push it in too far), or simply use a dry towel to get rid of excess moisture. You may also carefully use a hairdryer (coolest setting) to completely dry the ear canal.
Use protective gear
You can wear a swim cap or earplugs while swimming, and a shower cap while in the shower to prevent water and shampoo from getting into your ears.
Never stick foreign objects into your ears
Whether it’s a pen, bobby pin or clip, or a cotton swab, any object that can push debris more deeply into your ear will not only make you more prone to infection, but it can damage your ear canal too. Cotton swabs should only be used to dry or clean the outer ear.
Don’t swim in dirty water
Water can sometimes be polluted, and the higher the level of bacteria, the higher your chances for developing an infection. Always check swimming spots for signs such as “High Bacteria Level.” Water with high bacteria will look murky as well. Better yet, if you’re uncertain about the quality of the water, simply avoid swimming in that area.
Practice good post-swimming habits
After getting out of the water, immediately turn your head from side to side until all the water runs out of your ear. This will aid in the draining of water from your ears, making it easier to dry your ears afterward.
Use a homemade cleaning solution
A simple solution can help prevent bacteria from growing inside your ear. You can mix one drop of vinegar with one drop of rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol and put one drop of the solution in each ear after swimming or bathing. Be sure to talk with your doctor before trying this home remedy.
Maintain Healthy Skin
The health of your skin inside the ear canal can impact your susceptibility to developing swimmer’s ear. Dry, cracked, or impaired skin will increase your chances of getting the infection. Here are some tips for taking good care of your skin and preventing ear infections:
- Avoid scratching your ears
- Never use improper cleaning methods such as ear candling. This can damage your ear canal and make it more prone to infection. If you have excessive ear wax, get your ears cleaned by a doctor. And since you may have small abrasions after your ears are cleaned by your doctor, you must avoid going swimming for a couple of weeks.
- Avoid irritating chemicals such as hairspray from getting into your ears. You can use cotton balls and earplugs as a barrier.
- Moisturize your ears after bathing by applying ointments and creams with mixtures of water in an oil, such as lanolin or petrolatum.
Schedule Your Birmingham Ear Infection Treatment Today
If you suspect that you’ve developed a chronic problem due to swimmer’s ear or any type of ear infection at all, contact the board-certified surgeons at Pediatric ENT Associates at Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham for a consultation and evaluation.