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Swimmer's ear is a legitimate concern when taking a swim. Here's what you need to know about swimmer's ear, and specific dangers for hearing aid wearers
2019-07-24

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Swimmer's Ear and Hearing Aids

Swimmer's ear is a legitimate concern for anyone who enjoys taking a swim. Here's what you need to know about swimmer's ear, and specific dangers hearing aid wearers need to look out for.

If you’re taking a summer vacation, you probably have a full plate already. There’s the matter of packing, buying travel fare, planning your itinerary, booking a place to stay, and worrying about the typical problems. Sunburn and eye protection are the first things people think of, so sunscreen and sunglasses are the first things they pack. However, many people overlook the dangers of swimmer’s ear. And if you already have hearing aids, there’s also concern about damage from water and sand.

Whether you wear hearing aids or not, you should consider your ears when planning your beach excursion – or even just a trip to a pool. If you’re not sure where to start, keep reading for more information about swimmer’s ear, how to prevent it, and how hearing aid wearers can prepare for a swim.

What is swimmer’s ear?

Swimmer’s ear is a common skin infection within the ear canal. Due to the tight space, heat, and humidity of the ear canal, it can be a painful and annoying problem. Symptoms of swimmer’s ear include pain, swelling, congestion, and temporary hearing loss. Unlike skin infections on your arms or legs, problems within the ears can be a bit more difficult to treat. However, plenty of people get swimmer’s ear every summer, and proper treatment can eliminate the problem quickly.

Children are more likely to develop swimmer’s ear, since their ear canals are narrower, and their immune systems aren’t fully developed yet. As expected, avid or professional swimmers are five times more likely to develop swimmer’s ear, since they are in the water more often. Those who swim in oceans and lakes are also more likely to develop swimmer’s ear, since the water is untreated and teeming with bacteria.

While swimmer’s ear can be painful and annoying, you shouldn’t be alarmed if you end up with an earache after swimming. Just make sure to treat the infection before it becomes too painful or inflamed.

Can swimmer’s ear cause hearing loss?

While swimmer’s ear is known to cause temporary hearing loss, you shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that it will cause permanent hearing loss. Many people feel panicked when they experience sudden hearing loss, but these cases are often temporary. Congestion of the inner ear and ear canal can block sound, leading to hearing loss and/or tinnitus.

If you wake up with an earache, congested ear, tinnitus or sudden hearing loss, take a trip to your doctor for a diagnosis. If you have gone swimming recently or ended up with water trapped in your ear from rain or a shower, swimmer’s ear is likely the culprit. Treatment of swimmer’s ear usually consists of medicated ear drops and/or antibiotics, and these work well in tackling the issue.

How to avoid swimmer’s ear

People prone to ear infections tend to be wary of pools, lakes, and oceans, since an afternoon of fun might leave them with an earache. However, the threat of swimmer’s ear shouldn’t ruin your fun. If you’re concerned about ending up with an ear infection, you can take measures to avoid it. Earplugs and custom hearing protection are a great way to prevent water from entering the ear, and thoroughly drying your ears after swimming can get rid of any buildup inside the ear canal.

If water ends up trapped in the ear, rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide can be used to empty the ear canal and kill any bacteria. Never use cotton swabs or other foreign objects to dry the ears. While it might seem tempting to use something to absorb the moisture, these objects can rupture your eardrum or cause sensitivity, worsening the issue. Simply tip your head, move your jaw by yawning, and try to coax the water out naturally.

Beach survival tips for your hearing aids

If you wear hearing aids, you probably already know the dangers that come with visits to the beach. However, there are ways to protect yourself and still have a good time. With proper preparation and planning, you can pack accessories and avoid problems before they arise. Many hearing aid wearers have posted tips online, and we’ve gathered solutions for the three most pressing issues: hearing aid water damage, heat damage, and sand.

Water, humidity, and sweat

The phrase “water damage” is a nightmare for anyone. Water damage can ruin our hearing aids, phones, books, and even our homes, but it’s not impossible to protect your hearing aids against water damage. If you plan on spending the day outside, bring a microfiber towel and occasionally wipe down your hearing aids. This will wick away moisture from sweat or humidity.

A waterproof case is also a necessity, just in case you take a dip in the water. You can store your hearing aids in the case, and put them back in once your ears are completely dry. While waterproof hearing aids do exist, these usually protect against bouts of rain or sweat, not submersion in water. It’s better to bring a friend for safety and stash your hearing aids for later.

Dehumidifiers can also be used to get rid of moisture after a long day, and some of these double as chargers. If you don’t already have one, consider picking one up before your trip.

Summer heat

Heat is bad for hearing aids and their batteries. If you need to store your hearing aids and their batteries, make sure you put them in a cool place. Never leave them in the car, under the sun, or by a window. While it’s always a good idea to pack extra hearing aid batteries, excessive heat can damage them before you get a chance to use them.

Sand

Sand and hearing aids are not a good combination. Sand can get trapped in the nooks and crannies of your hearing aids, grating on the delicate parts and causing serious damage. Never leave your hearing aids on a beach towel — always store them in a tight, waterproof (and sand-proof) case. But if you drop them into the sand or end up with a problem, your hearing care provider can help.

It’s always a good idea to take your hearing aids to your hearing care professional after a big trip. They can check for water or sand damage, and give them a good clean. If you don’t have a hearing care provider, the Signia locator tool can help you find one near you.