It’s the holiday season and everyone loves spending time in the water, especially when the temperatures in the UK and Europe have been soaring into the mid to high 30’s.
But frequent exposure to water can cause problems for our ears. Regular swimming washes earwax from our ears, leaving the skin dry and unprotected. Chlorinated water in particular dries out the out the skin, and dry skin leaves our ears more vulnerable to infection from the multitude of organisms found in rivers, oceans, lakes and even some swimming pools.
This common condition, often referred to as ‘Swimmer’s Ear’, usually starts off as an itch or mild irritation but can lead to inflammation of the outer ear, causing severe discomfort and pain, and possibly even hearing loss. Drainage of fluid from the ear and redness of both the ear and the ear canal are other common symptoms. In some cases the ear may become completely blocked. Swimmer’s Ear is particularly common in children and can also be caused by moisture from perspiration or humidity.
If you are going to be swimming regularly, then swimmer’s ear plugs can help prevent water from entering and settling in the outer ear and causing infection. These can be purchased over-the-counter but are most effective when custom-fitted for your ears.
In mild cases, Swimmer’s Ear may go away naturally without the need for treatment. But if symptoms persist or worsen then it’s a good idea to seek treatment. Your doctor or audiologist may clear your ear of dry skin, excessive earwax or other debris. Antibiotic eardrops, sometimes combined with a steroid ear drop may also be recommended to treat swimmer’s ear. Over-the-counter pain medication such as paracetamol or ibuprofen may help relieve short-term pain or discomfort. Speak to your Pharmacist about the most suitable over-the-counter medication for you.
If you think that you have swimmer’s ear, please avoid swimming and getting any other moisture in your ears until the symptoms have gone away. Please do not use cotton buds to remove water, earwax or other debris from the ear. This is likely to cause further damage to the skin and increase the possibility of infection and will compress earwax or dried skin, making your discomfort more severe, as well as pushing the debris deeper into the ear canal.
Surfer’s ear is a condition where bony growths form in the ear canal after long-term exposure to cold water or wind. These growths are called exostoses and it is believed that they form to try and protect the ear and the ear drum against exposure to excessive wind or cold water. Whilst these growths are benign, they can cause a variety of problems, stopping debris, wax and water from leaving the ear naturally, and in more extreme cases, sometimes blocking the ear completely and causing hearing loss.
This is a very common condition amoung surfers, with studies showing that up to 70% of regular surfers may develop surfer’s ear*. If you surf frequently and start to notice water getting stuck in your ears after a day riding the waves, it may well be that you have surfer’s ear.
Wearing ear plugs can help stop water getting into your ears, but if you think you have surfers ear, make an appointment to see your GP or audiologist who may refer you on.
If you would like to talk to us about either of these conditions, or make an appointment for ear plug fitting, please call us on 01732 525912.
*Reference: Wong BJF, Cervantes W, Doyle KJ, et al. Prevalence of External Auditory Canal Exostoses in Surfers. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1999;125(9):969–972. doi:10.1001/archotol.125.9.969