Avoid Ear Infections Created by Swimming and Surfing

Water sports provide hours of fun and fitness activities for Americans. While many apply sunscreen and wear sunglasses to protect against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, they may not realize that they also need to protect their ears. The Hearing Health Foundation reports that frequent swimming and surfing can create ear problems.

Ear Canal Design
The ear has three primary sections: the outer, middle and inner ear. The outer ear is more prone to problems because it is a damp area that collects a variety of debris, such as dead skin cells, dirt and other airborne substances and hair products.

Swimmer’s Ear
Earwax is created in the ear to protect the ear from debris and insects from getting beyond the outer ear. However, the earwax can be damaged when swimming frequently in water treated with chlorine, which tends not only to dry out the skin but to wash away the earwax. Once the earwax is removed, the ear is more susceptible to a painful infection called swimmer’s ear. Usually this malady starts as an irritating itch, but if left untreated it can result in a plugged or infected ear. Often doctors prescribe ear drops to treat the problem. Depending on the gravity of the infection, recovery time may be several days to weeks. Note: swimming in non-treated water, such as a lake, also can create problems for individuals if the ear already is aggravated by other health issues.

For individuals swimming frequently in chlorine-treated waters, doctors recommend several methods to keep ears dry:

  • Wear a silicone swim cap that covers the ears
  • Use custom-made ear plugs or purchase over-the-counter swim plugs
  • Remove excess water droplets left in the ear by using a home remedy of equal parts of white vinegar and isopropyl alcohol
  • Dry ears with an ear dryer
  • Apply an over-the-counter ear conditioner

Surfer’s Ear
Individuals who surf or swim frequently in cold water are at higher risk for developing exostosis or surfer’s ear. Hearing Health Foundation explains that when individuals regularly spend time in cold water, the ear canal may develop bony growths. If the growths become large, they can block the ear canal so debris and water cannot escape, causing an infection and possibly hearing loss. To remedy the problem, doctors prescribe drugs to heal the infection and surgically remove the bony growths.

Avoid the swab
According to Healthy Hearing, the skin inside the ear also can be damaged when using a cotton swab to remove earwax and debris. The ear’s delicate skin is injured easily, which can lead to an infection in the outer canal’s damp environment. So if you choose to use cotton swabs, be carefully and only use them on the outer ear.