Warm weather and swimming go hand-in-hand. A cool and refreshing swimming pool, lake or ocean seem to call out to you when the temperature rises, and all offer a fun activity to enjoy on your own or with friends and family. Or you could be an avid swimmer because you love that type of exercise.
But this particular activity can also leave your ears clogged, and even infected without the right protection.
Here’s what you need to know to enjoy the water without doing a number on your ears and hearing.
How to protect your ears from water
If your plans include swimming, consider using swim earplugs to protect your ears. Swim earplugs are specialized plugs designed to fit your ear, creating a seal that keeps the water out. The may be custom-fitted or one-size-fits-all. While most hearing health care providers would recommend custom swim earplugs due to their personalized fit, longer life and ability to be washed and reused for hygienic ear safety, either one is a better choice than going without.
It’s not just swimming earplugs that can help protect your ears either. Planning ahead to find the best body of water for your ear health can be just as important. Whenever possible, opt for pools that are chlorinated or filtered, check the water quality of your local beach, lake or river if available and avoid stagnant water. These steps can help you avoid swimming in higher than optimal bacteria levels.
How to remove water
While it’s a smart move to prevent water from getting into the ear canal, it’s not always possible to avoid it. When you do find yourself with water in the ear, these strategies can help you remove it before it turns into something more serious:
- Use gravity – when wiggling your ear to help open it up doesn’t work, try tipping your head or lying down on the side that has the clogged ear and waiting for gravity to draw the water out.
- Use steam – a hot compress or steamy shower can help to open up the inner workings of the ear to allow water to run out.
- Use alcohol and vinegar – a mixture of equal parts rubbing alcohol and vinegar dropped into the ear with a dropper can help to evaporate water and dissolve earwax.
- Use a vacuum technique – Tilting your head to the side with the clogged ear, press the palm of your hand to your ear and gently “plunge” the water out.
- Use over the counter ear drops – readily available at your local drug store, follow the directions on the label to administer and remove built-up water in the ear.
- And more
There are several safe and easy ways to remove water from your ear, but when they don’t work, consider seeing your hearing healthcare provider for help.
What happens if the water stays in the ear
In some cases, no matter how hard you try, water in the ear refuses to budge. In these cases, you may need to be on the lookout for infection. Chances are you’ve heard of swimmer’s ear even if you haven’t experienced it yourself. This common condition is an infection of the outer ear canal and is usually a result of water that gets in, but doesn’t make it back out. This lingering water creates an ideal environment for bacteria to grow and thrive. No one wants to deal with the itchiness, discomfort, redness and even draining fluid that come with swimmer’s ear, but the CDC estimates that about 2.4 million doctor visits each year and nearly $500 million in annual health care costs can be traced back to this kind of infection.
Wherever you plan to go swimming, take steps to protect your ears, prevent infection, and reduce your risk of hearing loss. If you have questions about swim earplugs, removing water from your ears or a possible case of swimmer’s ear infection, contact our office to schedule an appointment.