3 Tips to Stop Swimmer's Ear Before It Starts
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Don’t let swimmer’s ear ruin the water fun for you and your family this summer—whether you’re bound for the pool, the lake, or the ocean.
Our ears are tricky and precious parts. Blockage and pain can turn vacation time into the doldrums. The key is to be vigilant and follow this rule: When you’re not in the water keep the water out of your ears.
The ear has three main parts: the outer (the ear lobe and ear canal), middle (the small space just behind the eardrum), and inner ear (the fluid-filled structures that translate mechanical vibrations into nerve impulses).
Bacterial and fungal infections in the ear canal can result from spending extended time in the water. Water collects in the ear canal, often trapped by wax, and the canal stays damp — a perfect environment for bacteria to grow. Your ears itch, turn red, feel full, and pain increases. The Centers for Disease Control notes that about 4 in every 1,000 people feel your pain.
Your ear can hurt in other places, too: Trauma and infection of the outer ear hurts. And your middle ear can harbor a painful infection when the eustachian tube is inflamed by bacteria or allergens. In this case, microbes breed in this environment and fluid builds up, creating pressure against the eardrum. The eardrum may rupture, and you’ll see blood-tinged pus. Fortunately, the eardrum usually heals itself, although you should see the doctor right away.
While painful, swimmer’s ear does not usually lead to a ruptured eardrum, unless the infection isn’t treated, and it spreads. Your doctor can prescribe antibiotic ear drops to fight bacterial infection; antifungal drops to kill fungi; and steroid ear drops to decrease inflammation. Do not take over-the-counter antihistamines or decongestants. Studies show they don't really work, and in fact can be harmful, especially to children.
If at all possible, prevent swimmers ear in the first place!
Try these 3 tips from our book500 Time-Tested Home Remedies and the Science Behind Themfor keeping your ears dry—and for easing the pain if swimmer’s ear strikes!
1.Use anti-swimmer’s-ear drops.Mildly acidic solutions create an environment that rejects bacteria and fungi. Shake 1 teaspoon of white vinegar and 1 teaspoon of rubbing alcohol in a sterile bottle with a dropper. Squeeze 2-3 drops into each ear before swimming. Tip your head to one side to let the solution reach the ear canal, then tip the head back so the solution drains out.
2. Keep ears dry. Public swimming pools, lakes, and oceans contain bacteria. Removing water from ears eliminates a potential breeding ground. After swimming, immediately dry your outer ears gently and thoroughly with a cloth. Tip your head to one side, draining water from one ear. Dab away that moisture. Repeat with the other ear. Or try a hair dryer—carefully! Hold it—on LOW— a foot from your ears as you dry them.
3.Ease the pain until you can see a doctor. To make an ear warmer, pour one cup of uncooked rice into a clean athletic sock and knot the top. Microwave the sock on high for 30 seconds. Check that it’s warm but not too hot. Lie down with the painful ear up and apply the warm sock. If it’s too warm, put a clean cloth under it.
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