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Preventing Swimmer’s Ear

Public pools across the state are scheduled to open this weekend in time for Memorial Day. If you plan to splash around in water this summer, don’t forget to protect yourself and your children against swimmer’s ear.

“We all know the importance of applying sunscreen to help prevent skin cancer,” said Adele Evans, M.D., associate professor of otolaryngology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “Our ears usually don’t get the same attention, but it’s important to protect them, too.”

Also known as otitis externa, swimmer’s ear is an infection of the outer ear canal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it can occur when water stays in the ear canal for long periods of time, providing the perfect environment for germs to grow and infect the skin. 

“It can be extremely painful, and if left untreated can lead to serious complications,” Evans said. “But the good news is there are simple ways to avoid it.”

Evans offers the following tips on preventing swimmer’s ear:

Dry your ears after a dip: Use a towel and tilt your head each way to help the water escape. A hair dryer on the lowest or cool setting also can help dry out your ears. 

Ask about taking ear drops: For people who have never had ear issues, using ear drops made of half vinegar and half rubbing alcohol after swimming can help prevent infection and encourage drying. For those who have had problems with ear infections or have had ear surgery, it’s important to consult your physician before using ear drops as they can have dangerous side effects.

Keep objects out of your ears: This includes cotton swabs, fingers, writing utensils, etc. A common misconception is that you have to go underwater in order to get swimmer’s ear, but all it takes is a certain type of germ finding its way into your ear. 

Leave your earwax alone: A healthy amount of earwax is your friend; it helps protect your ears from infection. 

Consider using ear plugs: If you have recurrent ear infections, ear plugs can help keep your ears dry while swimming. Check with your doctor on which kind of plug is best to use. For children with ear tubes, while current guidelines do not require the use of ear plugs, it is best to speak with your doctor about them. 

Know the symptoms: Swimmer’s ear can affect people of all ages. The most common symptoms are itchiness and redness inside the ear, pain when the ear is tugged or when pressure is applied to it, and drainage. 

“If you think you have swimmer’s ear, consult your health care provider,” Evans said. “The sooner we catch it and begin treating it, the sooner you’ll be able to get back to enjoying your summer.”

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Last Updated: 01-09-2016
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