Have your ears ever felt like they were blocked up with water after taking a swim? It’s a frustrating feeling when you still feel the obstruction for the following days. This symptom is caused by a bacterial infection known as acute otitis externa A.K.A. swimmer’s ear. Generally speaking, it’s harmless, but you should still get it checked out by a hearing healthcare provider. If it goes untreated, it could affect your ability to hear.
How Swimmer’s Ear Affects Your Hearing
Swimmer’s ear can occur after being in any body of water, although it typically develops after spending time in hot tubs, lakes, oceans, and rivers. Due to the greater amounts of bacteria that are found in these areas, water that becomes trapped inside the ear is more likely to lead to painful infections on the skin. Your inner ear is the ideal place for bacteria or fungi to grow and thrive. Skin irritations caused by some hair products can worsen the condition when there is an infection.
If this condition spreads throughout the body, it can cause harm to other areas, not just your ears. Most people who have swimmer’s ear also experienced pressure and pain in their ear, along with redness in their skin, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and pus or fluid drainage. Under more serious instances, temporary or permanent hearing loss could occur when sensitive organs located in the inner ear are compromised and the infection begins to develop in the brain and base of the skull.
Your inner ear has tiny hair cells, which are called cilia. These hair cells collect the quality of sounds. The hearing nerve cells are delicate and cannot regrow. When infection damages the cilia, it causes some permanent hearing loss - depending on how many of the hair cells are destroyed.
When Should You Get Treatment?
If you have any concerns about your ears or hearing, please consult a hearing care professional as soon as possible. Early treatment can help to slow down and prevent further damage.
Here are some ways to know if your inner ear is infected due to trapped water:
It’s advised that you do not swim, fly in an airplane or drive up to elevated areas like the mountains, to prevent the chances of your ears popping. Your ears will need time to heal. If you get proper treatment, the symptoms of swimmer’s ear should go away in 14 days or less.
Preventing Swimmer’s Ear
Here’s what you can do to make sure your ears are safe when you swim:
Use earplugs or custom-molded ear protection to prevent water from penetrating your ear canal.
Before dipping into a pool, the water should be chlorinated or filtered to avoid high levels of bacteria. If you are going to be in a natural body of water, do not go to stagnant locations and find out whether the water’s sanitation levels are available for the public to view before heading out there.
After your swim, you should try to remove excess water from your ears in your own home. The safest method is to lay your head on its side, move your jaw around by chewing or yawning to pop your ears and release the pressure, you may also try to place a warm compress on your ear, or place your ear over a bowl of warm steaming water. Do not use a hairdryer or hand dryer to make the water evaporate. The loud noises from those appliances could worsen your hearing.
If you or a loved one have been experiencing sudden hearing loss after being in the water, contact us at Pure Sound Hearing for a free hearing test and consultation.