Swimming is fun. Swimmers ear? Not so much. The CDC estimates that 2.4 million visits are made to the doctor each year because of swimmers’ ear – also known as acute otitis externa (AOE). Prevention of AEO should be a priority if you’re a swimmer. Even if you’re not, there are a few things you can do to prevent (or treat) AOE caused by something as simple as taking a shower.
Keep Ears Dry
The best medicine is prevention. Your body makes cerumen (ear wax) as a way to protect you from infection and accidental water exposure. The ear is very sensitive which is why this protective coating should be kept as dry as possible.
Chlorine in your tap water (or swimming pool), can wash away this protective layer, exposing the skin. Once this happens, minor trauma to the outer and inner ear can happen rather easily. To prevent all of this from happening, wear earplugs, a shower cap, or specially molded ear protection when you go swimming or when you’re in the shower.
Dry Ears Thoroughly
It’s inevitable. At some point, despite your best efforts, your ears will get wet. When that happens, dry them thoroughly. Pulling your upper ear a bit to straighten out your ear canal, and tilting your head to allow any water to drain out, is a good start.
Be careful when drying. You don’t want to jam anything into your ear. Gently dry off the outside of your ear with a towel. If there’s anything inside the canal, use a hairdryer on the lowest setting. Gently warming the outer and inner ear should dry off any excess moisture.
Don’t Put Objects In Your Ear
People do it all the time. You’ve probably tried it once or twice – cotton swabs in your ears. This is an extremely bad idea. While you might think that removing earwax is an important way to keep your ears clean, remember that your ears need earwax in them (at least a little bit).
Even putting your finger in your ear carries risks. You can do micro-trauma to your ear canal and actually make things worse by pushing ear wax further down into your ear.
Use Ear Drops
If you’ve gotten to the point of having water in your ear, and the usual drying methods don’t work, it’s time to be a little more proactive – especially if you’re ears are plugged up or you suspect that your ear canal is inflamed. You’re may need something more to get rid of the swimmer’s ear.
A 1:1 ratio of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar may do the trick but consult your doctor first. Drops should not be used if you have an outer ear infection or drainage that doesn’t look normal. You also shouldn’t use this type of solution if you have damaged eardrums (i.e. a torn eardrum). Warm the solution to match your body temperature before flushing your ear out with a bulb syringe. If you don’t, you’ll probably get dizzy, nauseated, or it might cause ear pain.
Another alternative is prescription-strength ear drops from your doctor. Just like the home-made solution, make sure the drops are warmed to match your own body temperature before you use them.