senior man swimming in a pool
senior man swimming

Swimming & Your Hearing: What You Need To Know

Do you enjoy swimming in a pool, lake or ocean?  You're not alone! Swimming is fun, relaxing and great exercise. Here's everything you need to know about protecting your hearing health while having fun in the water.


How does swimming affect your ears?

Swimming at long lengths of time can lead to a common ear condition called otitis externa, or commonly known as "swimmer's ear". This condition causes the tube between the outer ear and the eardrum to become inflamed. This happens when your ears are subjected to a bacteria found in lakes, oceans, rivers and even pools that aren't treated properly with chemicals. In rare circumstances, it can even happen in the bath or shower.

Symptoms and real concerns

While sometimes swimmers ears can go away and not cause damage, other times it can include sever pain, itchiness and a degree of temporary hearing loss. Swimmer's ear can be treated simply by avoiding swimming again and immersing your ears in water. You can even try over-the-counter ear drops to soothe the pain.  However, in extreme cases, swimmer's ear can cause an infection which can lead to blockage in your ear. This is when you will need to contact your doctor to receive professional medical attention.

How to protect your ears in water

Here are some ways you can protect your ears to reduce the risk of swimmer's ear:
  • Swim in pools you know are properly chlorinated to avoid infection
  • Wear earplugs use a swimming cap to cover your ears when swimming
  • Always clean and dry your ears out properly after swimming
  • If you get water in your ear, try to remove immediately
  • DO NOT try to remove any water with ear Q-tips as you may force wax deeper into your ear blocking the water

Swimmer's ear vs. surfer's ear

Surfer's ear is another term you may have about, one which sounds like swimmer's ear but is actually a different condition entirely. Caused by repeated and prolonged time spent in cold salt water, surfer’s ear occurs when the inner part of the ear canal reacts and forms bony growths, called exostoses. These bony growths appear in the area of the ear closer to the ear drum and stem from the bottom and top of the ear canal, like stalagmites and stalactites in a cave.
At their most extreme, exostoses can lead to hearing loss due to:
  • Narrowing of the ear canal
  • Retention of earwax, moisture and debris
  • Infections and discomfort
  • Damage to the eardrum and more extensive issues with the middle and inner parts of the ear
Why do these bony growths occur? It has been reported that the growths are the body’s way to protect the eardrum from being repeatedly exposed to the very cold water. That's why Beltone recommends protecting your ears from cold water by using earbuds designed for use in the water.
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