Keep Those Ears Dry

It’s summer and everyone is trying to get in some outdoor recreation after being cooped for the past few months. Even if pools are still closed due to COVID-19, swimming in the ocean, lakes, rivers, ponds, or backyard pools offers the opportunity for some socially-distant exercise.

But with summer swimming can come swimmer’s ear. (And truth be told, you don’t have to go swimming to come down with a case of it).

Swimmer’s ear is really just a fairly common type of bacterial infection of the skin lining the ear canal. It causes mild pain around the ear — especially when pressure is applied to the tragus, that lump of skin at the opening of the ear — and itchiness. If there’s clear fluid draining from your ear then you probably have swimmer’s ear.

What causes it is too much water in the ear canal — hence the name. Besides keeping water out in the first place with earplugs, it’s important to thoroughly dry out your ears after they’ve been immersed in water (this can include getting caught in a summer downpour). That means not popping hearing aids back in immediately. Give the ear canal some “air” so any moisture can evaporate.

Also, go easy on the ear cleaning if you know you’ll be swimming or engaging in any activity in which the ears can get very wet. Any abrasions in the skin of the ear will make it more likely that bacteria can — in an inelegant metaphor — get a foothold in your ear.

If you suspect you’ve got swimmer’s ear, then treat it. Ear drops that negate the bacteria and provide greater evaporation are the most common method. Swimmer’s ear can get worse — including the discharge of pus from the ears, infection of the lymph nodes, and fever — so don’t let it run wild.