With a lot of talk about swim safety swirling this year, it’s important to do the obvious things when going for a dip – enrol children in swimming classes, wear life jackets when appropriate, obey “no swimming” signs, wear sunscreen even in the water, etc. But one thing we’re not warned about often enough is how to protect your ears while enjoying the underwater world. Here are a few things you should know before diving in for a swim.
Swimmer’s Ear doesn’t just impact your ears
Probably the most common water-related complication, Otitis Externa (informally known as Swimmer’s Ear) affects thousands of Australians every year. Its main causes include water or bacteria getting trapped in the ear’s fragile caverns and mechanical damage, which most-often occurs when one tries to remove water or other buildup without consulting a professional. While the condition is typically easily diagnosed and treated, it can result in an incredibly painful outcome if not taken seriously. It can become a chronic issue, increase scar tissue and narrow the ear canal, infect surrounding body parts (face, neck), or – worst case – spread to the bones and cartilage of the skull. It’s important to seek medical attention if you suspect you have liquid trapped in your ears.
Underwater pressure can cause trauma
Most commonly associated with scuba diving, Barotitis Media (informally known as middle ear barotrauma) occurs when a diver descends and experiences overpressure in the middle ear. This can cause excessive fluid or even blood to leak into the middle ear, partially or completely filling it. Ears will feel full and painful, and sound will potentially be muffled if someone is experiencing trauma to the middle ear. It’s important to stop the activity immediately and, if caused by scuba diving, consider avoiding airplanes for at least 24 hours until the pressure is balanced. A medical practitioner should be seen as soon as possible, too.
What can you do?
Knowing the potential complications is the first step in avoiding them – so congratulations – you’re already halfway there! Keep these conditions in mind when swimming and keep an audiologist on hand for help.