Submitted by the Audiologists at Midwest Hearing Center
After a long, cold winter, many people look forward to the warmer weather of summer. For most of us, summertime signifies a multitude of fun outdoor activities. Among the most popular summer activities for people of all ages are swimming and water sports. For people with certain ear problems, swimming and water activities can cause pain and infection, putting a damper on the fun of summer. Fortunately, there are solutions for this problem that can work successfully for almost anyone.
There are two types of ear problems that can occur as a result of getting water in one’s ears. The first is extremely common and could happen to anyone. It is called external otitis, more commonly known as “swimmer’s ear.” When water runs into the ear canal and isn’t able to get back out due to wax in the ear or a curvy ear canal, it can breed fungus and result in an infection of the outer ear canal. Most people who are prone to swimmer’s ear know who they are, as it is usually a lifelong struggle.
The second ear problem, which can be caused by water in the ear, only applies to people who have a hole in their eardrum. A hole allows the water to flow into the middle ear space. The middle ear is air-filled; therefore, water in this space can cause serious issues. People can have a hole in their eardrum naturally, resulting from an infection that caused their eardrum to burst or from a traumatic event. Other people may have a hole that was surgically created. This would be the case for children or adults who have repeated otitis media (or middle ear infections) and receive pressure equalization (PE) tubes so that fluid cannot build up behind the eardrum.
The best way to prevent external or middle ear infections related to water in the ears is to wear some sort of water protection or earplugs.
At Midwest Hearing Center, we offer several types of water protection of varying costs and levels of effectiveness. The least expensive solution is “putty plugs,” or small balls of a wax-like substance that can be formed to an individual’s ear. This solution is considered a universal fit, as there is no sizing or customization involved. Unfortunately, some patients have reported that these plugs fall out easily or do not seal completely. Because of this, there are other options available.
One of the other options is stock earplugs, called “Doc’s Proplugs.” These plugs come in various sizes; consequently, there is some “fitting” involved. Doc’s Proplugs tend to stay in better than the putty plugs, but since they are stock, they do not fit everyone. For the most difficult-to-fit ears and/or avid swimmers, custom swim plugs should be made. Custom plugs are made from impressions of the ears, which are made in our office and then sent to a lab for the actual plugs to be made. Custom swim-plugs fit the best and stay in the best; however, they are also the most costly option.
Water-related ear issues can be serious and painful but are also preventable. Precautions, such as earplugs, need to be taken for some individuals to ensure a safe summer. There is no reason that an infection of the external or middle ear should cause someone to miss out on summer fun!
For further information or to schedule an appointment to learn which type of water protection would be best for you or your child, please call our Morton office at 309-284-0164 or our Peoria office at 309-691-6616.
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