Swimming, Clogged Ears, and Ear Infection

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Swimming and clogged ears

Do you enjoy swimming? In addition to being a great form of exercise, swimming is fun and can be particularly enjoyable on a warm day. So grab your swimming suit, towel, and goggles, and head to the pool!

However, that might not be the only prep you need to stay healthy and safe while swimming. Many people experience ears clogged with water after swimming. This happens when water is trapped in your ear canal, and while it occurs most often while swimming, it can develop with any type of exposure to water.

In most cases, the water drains out on its own. When it doesn’t, however, it can result in an infection called acute otitis externa, commonly known as swimmer’s ear. While swimmer’s ear is usually harmless and often has no lasting effects, it can have serious consequences if left untreated.

Swimmer’s ear occurs most often when a person has been swimming in untreated water, such as in lakes, rivers, and oceans, or in hot tubs. This is because there are more bacteria in these bodies of water, and when the water is trapped in your ear, the bacteria begin to grow and cause an infection. Certain hair products can also irritate the skin and worsen the condition.

Common symptoms of swimmer’s ear include:

  • Ear pain and pressure
  • Fever
  • Pus or fluid drainage from the ear
  • Slight redness of the skin
  • Swollen lymph nodes

In serious cases in which the infection is not treated, acute otitis externa can also lead to temporary or permanent hearing loss. In these cases, the infection damages the tiny hair cells found in the inner ear. Because these hair cells are very fragile and cannot regenerate, their damage results in permanent hearing loss.

To avoid hearing loss, it is important to seek help from a medical professional like an audiologist. You should seek professional help if you notice the signs of infection listed above. Other common signs that indicate treatment is needed include ear itching or pain when chewing or when tugging the earlobe. You should also seek help if you notice that your hearing is more muffled or quieter than usual and you feel a clogged sensation in your ear.

When professionally treated, the infection can often be resolved within 14 days. In most cases, your audiologist will prescribe an antibiotic or antifungal eardrop.

You can also take simple steps to prevent water from entering your ears and causing infection in the future. Wear earplugs or custom molded ear protection while swimming. Avoid stagnant water, especially in a natural body of water. If you are swimming in a pool or hot tub, make sure the water is properly filtered and chlorinated to avoid high levels of bacteria.

After swimming, thoroughly dry your ears with a towel. If water does get trapped in your ear, you can try to drain it at home before an infection occurs. Here are a few easy ways to drain water from your ears:

  • Lay your head on its side with a towel underneath. This allows gravity to naturally drain the water from your ears.
  • Gently jiggle or tug your earlobe while tilting your head in a downward motion with your shoulder. While in this position, you can also try shaking your head from side to side.
  • Create a vacuum to draw out the water. You can do this by tilting your head sideways and resting your ear onto your cupped hand, creating a tight seal. Then gently push your hand back and forth in a rapid motion toward your ear. Flatten your hand as you push and cup it as you pull away. Tilt your head forward to allow the water to drain.
  • Apply a hot compress to your ears. Apply a hot, wet washcloth to your ear as you tilt your head downward on the affected side. Leave the washcloth on your ear for about 30 seconds, then remove it for one minute. You can repeat this four or five times.
  • Use hydrogen peroxide eardrops, which you can often find in drugstores or online. These eardrops use a combination of hydrogen peroxide and urea called carbamide peroxide to unclog earwax, which could be trapping water in the ear.
  • Yawn or chew to pop your ears, and tilt your head to release any water. Moving your mouth in this way can open the Eustachian tubes where water may be stuck.
  • Open your Eustachian tubes using the Valsalva maneuver. To do this, close your mouth and gently squeeze your nostrils closed with your fingers. Breathe deeply and slowly blow the air out of your nose (but do not blow too hard). When you hear a popping sound, your Eustachian tubes have opened. Then tilt your head to drain the water from your ear.

It is not recommended to use ear swabs, your finger, or any other object to probe inside your ear, as this could add more bacteria and could push the water deeper into your ear.

If you believe you have an ear infection or water trapped in your ear, please do not hesitate to contact our audiology practice today. We are here to help.


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