Swimming Ear Plugs
Swimmers of all ages may find their ears blocked with water from time to time. For most people, this is a minor inconvenience. It’s sorted with a little shake of the head. For others, it can be very irritating, even painful. And in extreme cases it can even lead to an outer ear infection.
Fortunately, these problems are preventable by using ear plugs when you swim. Swimming ear plugs are little devices that fit snugly into each ear to keep them dry when you’re in the water. But should you bother spending on yet another bit of kit? Those who benefit the most from ear plugs are:
- Frequent swimmers
- Cold water swimmers
- Fresh water swimmers
- Swimmers with compromised immune systems
To understand why, first, it’s important to understand a bit about the ears and what happens when water gets in there. The part of the ear swimmers get wet is the external auditory canal. That’s the cavity that connects the outside of your ear to the surface of the eardrum. It’s fairly narrow, and it’s easy for water to get temporarily trapped in there. Kids are some of the most susceptible because their ear canals are so small.
If you get water in your ear, you can take a few steps to try to get it out straight away:
- Lean to the side and let gravity draw it out.
- Give your head a little shake to help it come down.
- Gently tug your earlobe in a few different directions to open the canal while tilting your head.
- Lean over and thoroughly dry your ear with a towel
**Never stick anything into your ear, including a cotton bud!**
If these don’t work, after your swim, lay down on your side with your blocked ear on a pillow. In a few minutes, the water should trickle out.
Most of the time, your ear canal is protected by earwax. Earwax moisturises the skin of the ear canal while also creating a barrier against bacteria, dirt and harmful chemicals. Chlorine, one of the main sanitation chemicals used in swimming pools, can wash away protective earwax. So can salty and sandy water at the beach. The more time you spend in the water, the more your earwax will wash out.
When that protective barrier is gone, or if there is water trapped in there, bacteria can grow. This is especially a problem for fresh water swimmers, who aren’t able to control water quality. And it’s also a problem for swimmers who are immunosuppressed or compromised. Their bodies are less able to fight even minor infections.
For those on the open water, there’s an additional risk of something called surfer’s ear. This condition causes bony growths on the ear canal as a response to exposure to cold conditions.
Okay, enough of the grim. Here’s the good.
Ear plugs help prevent infections, surfer’s ear, and even the minor discomfort of having a bit of water sloshing around in there. It’s pretty simple, they block the water from getting into the ear in the first place.
Choosing the right ear plug.
There are several different types of ear plugs available:
- Conical ear plugs create an effective seal against water with a flange design. There are lots of different options out there for both children and adults. Most are made from silicone, which is hypoallergenic. Clever enhancements may include clips for attaching them to goggles or a cord to keep them together.
- Silicone or wax ear plugs are soft, mouldable pellets that you shape to fit your own ear. This custom-fit is great if you find other ear plugs irritating. They are inexpensive. However, wax plugs are single use. Silicone plugs can be reused as long as you can keep them clean. They soon get linty if not kept in their case.
- For a truly personalised fit, you can have custom-made ear plugs. An impression is made of your ear and used to cast a plug that fits only your ear. The upshot is that you will definitely get a good seal. The downside is that this type of ear plug is expensive, and if you lose them, it can take a fair bit of both time and money to replace them.
Accessories & specialist kit
- The Ear Bandit is a neoprene headband that goes over the ears when wearing mouldable ear plugs. Its purpose is to help prevent the plugs from falling out during swimming, especially for kids during play sessions.
- If you’re worried about not being able to hear while swimming, SwimEars might be for you. This premium ear plug is a variant on the conical design and minimises sound loss. They come in multiple sizes, with a cord so they don’t get lost in the water.
- If you do get some water in the ear, isopropyl alcohol drops can be purchased over the counter to treat it. These drops can only be used on intact ear drums. Do not use them on grommets or damaged ears. The alcohol helps to dry up the water. The glycerin (the inactive ingredient) prevents excessive drying of the skin in the ear.
If you’re worried about ear infections, or if discomfort from water in the ears is preventing you from swimming, why not get in touch? A private swimming lesson with one of our teachers where you have an opportunity to test drive new ear plugs safely will give you the confidence to get back to the water!