Recreational Water Illnesses, which can be abbreviated RWIs, are caused by a combination of chemicals and germs found in pool water. While the most common types of RWIs are diarrheal illnesses and skin conditions, ear infections also make the list of common illnesses associated with swimming. Officially called “otitis externa,” this type of ear infection is commonly referred to as “swimmer’s ear.”
Swimmer’s Ear Described
Swimmer’s ear, though a type of infection, is different from the kind of infection of the middle ear that’s common among children. Swimmer’s ear is actually an infection of the outer ear canal. Symptoms include pain and discomfort, along with itchiness inside the ear, redness and swelling, and possibly pus draining from the ear within a few days of swimming and can affect swimmers of any age but most commonly affects children. (Sometimes extreme pain can result from tugging or putting pressure on the ear.) In fact, swimmer’s ear accounts for approximately 2.4 million health care visits annually, costing nearly half a billion dollars for the health care received.
Swimmer’s Ear Concerns
When water remains in the ear canal for a long period of time, germs can grow and even infect the skin. Since germs are more common in public swimming pools, they pose the greatest risk for swimmer’s ear. However, swimmer’s ear isn’t directly contagious from one person to another.
To help reduce the chances of those using your personal swimming pool contracting swimmer’s ear, be sure to check disinfectant and ph levels on a daily basis and use pool test strips to check chemical levels.
Swimmer’s Ear Treatment
Swimmer’s ear is easily treated with antibiotic ear drops, which can be prescribed by any healthcare provider. To avoid future incidents of swimmer’s ear, you’ll want to keep ears as dry as possible; for those particularly prone to this infection, using ear plugs or a swimming cap might be a good idea. Custom-fitted swim molds can also be helpful. Whether you use one of those forms of protection or not, it’s a good idea to use a towel to dry ears after swimming or showering. You can also tilt your head to allow each ear to face downward and allow any water to escape from your ear canal. By pulling your earlobe in various directions while your ear is facing down, you can further encourage drainage.
If any water remains in your ears, using a hair dryer can help; if you use that method, be sure to use the lowest speed and heat setting and hold the dryer several inches away from the ear. Avoid removing ear wax (which helps protect your ear canal) using cotton-tip swabs, fingers, or other objects inside your ear canal. If you regularly experience swimmer’s ear, you may want to ask your healthcare provider about using ear drops after swim times to help reduce the chances of such an infection.
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