Preventing Swimmer’s Ear Infection

The health benefits of swimming are well known. Regular dips in the deep improve heart and lung function, strengthen muscles, and increase flexibility — all without putting stress on the joints. So what could possibly go wrong with an exercise regimen this right? A surprisingly common infection of the ear canal known as swimmer’s ear.

Swimmer’s ear, medically termed external otitis, is most prevalent in children and young adults. It’s estimated that 10 percent of people develop swimmer’s ear at some point in their lives.

Although ear canal infections can be caused by other factors, swimmer’s ear occurs because bacteria-filled water settles in the ear canal after swimming. The most common infectious culprit is pseudomonas aeruginosa, but other bacteria and fungi can cause external otitis too.

Mild swimmer’s ear causes itching and redness in the ear canal and a clear discharge. If the infection is left untreated, suffers can experience severe pain, pus-filled drainage, and diminished hearing. Fortunately, swimmer’s ear can be easily prevented by taking a few simple precautions.

  • Rinse your ears with a solution that impedes bacteria and fungi growth. Make a mixture of equal parts rubbing alcohol and vinegar. Use a dropper or spoon to put one teaspoon of the solution in each ear. After you pour it in, tilt your head to the side and let the solution run out of your ear. Do this before and after each swim.

  • Drain and dry your ears after each swim. When you’re back on land, lean over to let the water out of your ears and then dry only the outer part of your ears with a soft cloth.

    Never insert a cotton swab, your finger, or any other object into the opening of your ear. You can scratch the inside of your ear, leaving an opportunistic entryway for bacteria. Remember grandma’s advice: Never stick anything in your ear except your elbow.

  • Swim conscientiously. Don’t swim in polluted waters. If you’re spending a week at the lake, contact your state’s parks department or department of natural resources to find out if there’s a known pollution problem in the waters. If you’ll be swimming in a public or fitness-center pool, ask the pool manager how frequently the pool is cleaned and how often he checks the disinfectant and pH levels of the water. They should be monitored several times a day.

Contact your doctor at the first signs of swimmer’s ear. Because it’s caused by bacteria or a fungus, you’ll need to take either an antibiotic or antifungal medication to make sure the infection doesn’t spread.

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