Children swimming

Heading into the water? Make ear plugs your must-have beach accessory

Fast facts – swimming and hearing loss

  • Swimmer’s Ear is known as otitis externa. It’s an infection of the outer ear.
  • The number of people affected by Swimmer’s Ear rises in the summer: 44% of cases occur between June and August.
  • Swimmer’s Ear can affect people of any age, although children are susceptible due to their narrower ear canals.
  • You don’t have to be a swimmer to get the condition: just living in hot, humid conditions is enough for moisture to build up and become trapped.

Swimmer’s Ear

Swimmer’s Ear is caused by an infection of the skin of the ear canal from bacteria entering in water and not draining out fully. In the warm, moist environment of the ear canal, the bacteria multiply and cause an infection which leads to swelling (and, therefore, hearing loss), inflammation and excruciating pain.

Is hearing loss permanent?

Thankfully, no. Although discharge from the ear, and even tinnitus, are symptoms, these will dissipate with treatment. Hearing should return to normal after the infection clears up.

How is Swimmer’s Ear treated?

A doctor or healthcare professional will usually prescribe antibiotic drops which you’ll need to apply for a week or more. You may need to avoid swimming for a couple of weeks and you’ll need to keep your ears dry during bathing or showering.

Surfer’s Ear

You may also have heard – or be affected by – Surfer’s Ear, or exostosis. This is caused when irritation and cooling of the ear canal from cold wind and water exposure triggers the bone surrounding the ear canal to grow new lumps of bone. These lumps constrict the ear canal, leading to gradual hearing loss. The constricted ear canal also becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, causing painful ear infections. Surfer’s Ear is six times as common in cold water surfers than warm water surfers, and the longer you surf, the more likely you are to get it.

How is Surfer’s Ear treated?

Treatment for Surfer’s Ear will require surgery to remove the excess bone and recovery will take several months.

How can you reduce your chances of getting Swimmer’s Ear or Surfer’s Ear?

While you should dry your ears fully after swimming, and drain any excess water out, far and away the best option for protecting your ears – and your hearing – is to use earplugs when you’re in the water. There are many different kinds on the market designed for water sports, and for adults and children.

SurfEars Ear Plugs and Surfplugs are two brands of ear plugs designed for water enthusiasts that help to keep your ears dry and protected without affecting your hearing or, importantly for surfing, your balance.

What to do next

At The Hearing Clinic we’re familiar with many of the ear plug products on the market designed for water activities. We’ll source and order the right ear plugs that suit your needs. If you’re worried that your hearing may have already been affected, particularly by Surfer’s Ear, we can give you a full hearing test and work with your healthcare professionals to help you on the way to restoring hearing health.

Helpful links

Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust: Surfer’s ear

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