Water usually enter and exit our ears without causing any problems. However, if your ear is exposed to excessive moisture, the internal wall can stay wet for prolonged period, which could affect the integrity of the fatty and acid film that covers the ear canal, promoting the multiplication of bacteria and fungus. The ear canal can become infected and inflamed, a condition called swimmer’s ear or otitis externa.
Swimmer’s ear is often associated with pain, discomfort or itching, usually in a single ear. Pain is often more severe when you chew, apply pressure to the front of the ear or pull the earlobe. The area around the affected ear is sometimes swollen and red. Loss of earring, discharge, and a sensation of fullness in the ear can sometimes signal otitis externa.
Fortunately, swimmer’s ear can be prevented. First, always dry your ears after being in the water, using a soft cloth. Never insert your fingers or any other foreign object in your ears so as not to damage the skin, which would open the way to an infection. When applying strong products on your hair, such as hair sprays and dyes, gently place a piece of cotton in your ears to protect them.
If you have fragile ears, here are a few suggestions to help you enjoy water activities all summer long. Where possible, use plugs specifically made to prevent water from entering the ears while swimming. Of course, never go swimming in contaminated water. A solution made of equal parts of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar can also be useful. Simply place a small amount (about a teaspoon) in each ear before and after swimming, and let it flow out. This solution can help prevent bacteria and fungus from multiplying in your ear, thus preventing swimmer’s ear.
Swimmer’s ear can usually be treated at home. If pain is mild and there is no discharge, you can apply heat on the affected ear and take an over-the-counter painkiller to relieve your discomfort. Always keep the affected ear dry: use plugs when taking a shower and avoid swimming until the infection disappears. If your condition does not improve within 48 hours, if pain becomes worse or if you have a chronic illness, you should seek medical help. Your physician may prescribe drops that provide an antibiotic to fight the infection and a corticosteroid to relieve inflammation.