Swimming and Your Ears: What You Need to Know
Whether in a pool, lake, river, or the ocean, swimming is an essential part of summer, no matter your age. But could this favorite hot weather activity damage your ears and lead to hearing loss?
How swimming affects your ears
Swimming can pose some significant risks to your ears, as it can cause otitis externa, also known as swimmer’s ear. This condition is caused by exposure to bacteria found in natural bodies of water. It can also be contracted in swimming pools or hot tubs that aren’t properly sanitized or treated with chlorine. When contaminated water becomes trapped in your inner ear, the bacteria can breed and cause an infection. Such infections can potentially damage the fragile hair cells inside the ear responsible for transmitting sound, leading to hearing loss.
Protecting your ears from water
You can minimize your chance of developing ear infections from swimming by finding out if a pool or hot tub is properly maintained and treated with chlorine before jumping in. If you enjoy swimming in natural bodies of water, stay away from stagnant areas that are more likely to have high levels of bacteria. Also, do some research to find out if a water source may be a safety risk.
You can further protect your ears by wearing earplugs when swimming to prevent water from getting inside. Disposable, water-resistant earplugs are available at any drug store, but if you’re a more regular swimmer, you might want to get custom-made ear protection for a reusable solution.
If you feel the sensation of water in your ears after a swim, there are a couple things you can do to remove it:
- Dry your outer ear with a soft towel without sticking it in the ear canal.
- Lean your head to one side while pulling gently on your ear lobe to help the water flow out.
- Place a few drops of rubbing alcohol, a solution of rubbing alcohol and vinegar, or hydrogen peroxide in the ear to help the water evaporate.
- Chewing or yawning can help open the eustachian tubes and remove water from your ears.
- Steam can also open the eustachian tubes. Place your face above a bowl of hot water with a towel over your head and inhale the steam for five to 10 minutes.
If the methods listed above don’t work, make an appointment to see a doctor to clean out your ears and prescribe any necessary treatment. If you are having difficulty hearing, a hearing care professional can properly evaluate the cause, and if necessary recommend appropriate hearing aids.
Don’t be afraid of the water
Swimming can still be a safe activity if you take the proper precautions. Learning more about where you swim, wearing proper ear protection, and knowing what to do if water gets in your ear will help you avoid the risk of developing an infection that could lead to hearing loss.