As the name suggests, swimmer’s ear is an ear infection that is often caught when swimming. However, this ear condition, which is also known as otitis externa, has a number of possible causes.
The Hearing Centre audiologist Claire Marshall takes a look at some of the possible causes of swimmer’s ear and how the condition can be treated.
What is swimmer’s ear?
Swimmer’s ear is a type of ear infection that affects the outer ear canal which is the part of your ear running from your eardrum to the outside of your head. It’s often caused when water remains in your ear after you have got wet. It’s not the water itself that causes swimmer’s ear but bacteria that grows in the moist environment that the water creates. Anyone can be affected by swimmer’s ear but you are at particular risk if you have a narrow ear canal. This means that children can be particularly susceptible to swimmer’s ear.
1 Swimmer’s ear and swimming
Swimmers are at particular risk of developing swimmer’s ear if they swim in water that is likely to have a high bacteria count. This means that swimming in a lake is more likely to result in swimmer’s ear than swimming in a chlorinated swimming pool. If you do swim in a lake, take special care to dry your ears afterwards. You can even use a hairdryer on a low setting to do this if you’re worried you may have been exposed to potentially harmful bacteria.
As a general rule, no matter the type of water, the longer you spend in it, the more susceptible you become to swimmer’s ear. This is why it is such a common condition among children on holiday who spend large parts of the day in swimming pools with their heads under water.
For information regarding how to protect against swimmers ear’s contact us on 0116 254 3909 and we will be happy to assist you further.
2 Swimmer’s ear and water
Any exposure to water can result in swimmer’s ear if your ears are not dried properly and bacteria is able to grow in the residual water. Even an everyday activity like taking a shower can cause swimmer’s ear if the conditions are right for bacteria to grow. Also, being exposed to mud can result in swimmer’s ear, which is why many people who take part in mud run challenges choose to wear ear plugs to protect their ears.
3 Swimmer’s ear and objects
Any audiologist will tell you that inserting objects such as cotton buds into your ear canal is a bad idea, yet many people persist in doing this as a way of cleaning their ears. In reality they are risking pushing the earwax they want to get rid of even further down their ear canal, risking a blockage which can also cause reduced hearing or a feeling of pressure in the ear. Pushing an object into your ear can also cause swimmer’s ear when the object damages or breaks the thin skin of the inner ear, leaving it prone to infection by bacteria.
4 Swimmer’s ear and devices
Devices such as hearing aids and earphones are designed to be used inside the ears, however, in some cases they can contribute to swimmer’s ear. Hearing aids close up the ear which in itself is a risk factor for creating a breeding ground for infection. However, this risk can easily be alleviated by applying an anti-allergenic surface cover to the hearing aid. When it comes to headphones, try not to wear them for long periods of time and make sure you practice good hygiene, particularly if you use them for activities that cause excessive sweating such as running.
5 Swimmer’s ear and environmental factors
Some jewellery and hair products can create a breeding ground for bacteria. If you have sensitive skin, it’s a good idea to put cotton balls in your ears (without pushing them in), if you are using potentially irritating substances such as hair dye. Also, as swimmer’s ear flourishes in the warm and moist conditions that favour the growth of bacteria, you are more likely to succumb to it if you are in a hot and humid climate.
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For the diagnosis and treatment of swimmer’s ear and other hearing problems, call us on 0116 254 3909 or fill in our online booking form.