A lot of people like to swim. And they have good reason to. It is healthy, fun and refreshing. Most people that swim regularly are in great physical shape and if you start swimming from an early age you will develop into a miniature version of the Hulk by the time you are an adult. However, just like with any physical activity there are inherent dangers. Although most of them come from injuries sustained during practicing the actual sport, in the case of swimming the most common issue comes from ear pain.
There are two major different types of ear pain: inner ear pain and external ear pain. However, both of them occur at similar times – when the area gets infested with bacteria or fungus. Inner ear pain is caused by the times when you get water trapped inside your ear canal. As anybody who has ever been to the beach will know, this process is not only extremely annoying, but it can be long as well. It can take several days for the water to completely drain out of the ear canal. In the meantime most people are content with just hopping on one leg while at the same time hitting their head and shaking it vigorously in a foolish attempt to get the water out. This not only is not very effective, but it also makes most people look like idiots. During this process the bacteria has a nice and cozy place where it can grow and spread in peace. This will eventually lead to ear pain.
The external pain is a condition known as external otitis, but it is more commonly referred to as swimmer’s ear, since it affects the ears of the people who like to swim (Duh!). It manifests itself when something breaks the skin of the ear canal, allowing the bacteria to set up shop there where it can live long and prosper (Star Trek reference for the nerds). This is common among people that swim in lakes, rivers, ponds or other polluted or dirty bodies of water. However, it can also happen to those that spend a lot of time in a pool, as the chlorine can help the bacteria develop faster. Even when you are taking a shower you are susceptible to getting swimmer’s ear. Besides swimming, you can also cause some damage if you try and clean your ear with a sharp object like a bobby pin or a hair clip, as they can cut the skin of the ear canal and put out a giant welcome mat for the bacteria.
Ear Pain Symptoms
The most obvious symptom is, of course, pain in your ear when you pull on it or even when you chew or yawn. In most cases the ear pain is announced by an itching sensation that starts before the actual pain sets. Swelling and redness of the external ear is also common. In some cases the lymph nodes around the ear may enlarge. If the ear canal swells then that will usually be accompanied by a green pus discharged from the ear. People with ear pain will often suffer from temporary hearing loss and even the occasional fever.
In order to determine if it is actual swimmer’s ear you can try and move different parts of the ear that you can reach very gently. If any of them cause pain then you might have this condition. Try the same movements on the other ear and if it does not hurt then you definitely need to start some form of treatment as soon as possible.
How to Treat Ear Pain
If you have any sort of ear pain then you could consult a doctor and you will get a prescription for ear drop medicine. Although there are plenty of them out there to choose from, most of them work because they contain antibiotics or corticosteroids. Using this medicine you should fill your ear canal with them a couple of times a day. The number of drops required and the frequency of use really differs from medication to medication, but usually 5 to 10 drops are enough and the process should be repeated 2 to 4 times a day for about 10 minutes. Keep this up for about a week and the ear drops should work in getting rid of all the pain. If the effect is taking too long to kick in and you are a little on the wimpy side when it comes to taking some pain then you can supplement the treatment with a dose of painkillers like Tylenol if Ibuprofen.
Apart from using this medicine there are not any other viable methods to treat ear pain. However, there are some that can be used to prevent it. The idea is to get all the water out of the ear so that the bacteria does not have an attractive breeding ground. Some people use ear plugs when they swim, but those have proven to be less effective than one would think. The best solution is to get the ear as dry as possible after swimming. If you still have water in your ear then put a few alcohol based ear drops inside of it and let them do their magic. If you do not have that then you can try using distilled vinegar or rubbing alcohol. They usually do the trick. However, you should consult a doctor before you put any kind of weird stuff in your body. Fair warning though: if you already suffer from any type of ear pain then avoid putting anything with alcohol inside of it as it will just increase the pain.
You need to be sure of what exactly you are suffering from, as the inner ear pain and the external otitis have different treatments. If you are not sure then schedule a consultation with a doctor that can easily determine the problem and give you the right medication.
Life After Ear Pain
The subheading might sound a bit bleak, but there is no big tragedy about getting on with your life after you had swimmer’s ear or any other type of ear infection. There are a few arguments over how much time you should avoid the water after you have undergone a treatment. Even though most specialists’ opinions differ, 10 days is usually the norm. If you expose your ear to water sooner than that then you will prolong the healing process and also risk another infection. You can try using ear plugs to minimize the damage but they are not a guarantee by any means.
If swimming sooner than recommended is a necessity (like for an athlete) then just make sure to keep your ears as clean as possible. Use some vinegar or some ear drops after you swim even if you do not feel that any water got stuck in there. It is better to be on the safe side then go through another painful week of ear pain treatments. This kind of condition is not a very big deal. A lot of people get it, especially during the summer when the temptation to go for a refreshing dip in the pool is too tempting for a mere mortal to pass.