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August 1, 2016 | Ear, Nose, Throat • Family Medicine
With summer in full swing, many of us are spending our days cooling off at the pool or lake, but one downside of splashing around in the water all day is feeling like you brought home half the lake in your ears.
Leftover water in the ear canal after swimming or showering can leave damaging effects, including an infection called swimmer’s ear. This infection of the outer ear canal is often brought on by water remaining in the ear after swimming, creating a dark, damp environment that is perfect for growing bacteria.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), swimmer’s ear results in an estimated 2.4 million healthcare visits every year, and most cases are reported in the summer months from June to August.
Your outer ear canals have natural defenses that help keep them clean and prevent infection. Earwax and the natural shape of your ear canal protect you from bacteria entering the canal, but excess moisture, especially from swimming, can weaken these defenses and promote bacterial growth. Other factors including heavy perspiration, scratches or abrasions in the ear and allergic reactions to certain jewelry or hair products can also increase your risk of infection.
Luckily, this common and painful infection can be prevented. Here are 5 tips that can help you prevent swimmer’s ear:
Cleaning out earwax with a Q-tip or scratching inside your ear with a finger or other pointed object can cause small breaks in the skin, which can lead to infection.
Make sure to thoroughly dry each of your ears after swimming or showering. Tilt and shake your head to the side until all of the water runs out of your ear.
If you swim in a lake or stream, make sure to rinse out your ears afterwards with clean water to prevent bacteria from remaining in the ear canal.
Wearing earplugs while swimming can help prevent swimmer’s ear, but make sure to get ones that fit properly and are intended to keep water out of the ear. A swimming cap can also help keep your ears dry.
Earwax can be annoying and gross, but in reality it helps protect your ear canals by trapping bacteria and repelling moisture.
If you or a family member contract swimmer’s ear, your doctor may gently clean out your ear canal to remove bacteria and will prescribe antibiotic eardrops that will help clear up the infection within a few days.
The Live Better Team
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.