Commercial pool operators might think about swimmer’s ear, but a lot of residential pool owners don’t. If your family uses your pool regularly, you should know how to prevent this disease (it’s medical name is Otitis Externa). According to the Centers for Disease Control, it affects millions of people, mostly kids, every year and costs about half a billion dollars in medical expenses.
In broad terms, swimmer’s ear prevention has two components:
- Keep the pool water clean, and as free of microbial contaminants as possible.
- Try to keep pool water out of the ear, and if it does get in there, dry the ear immediately after swimming.
What is Swimmer’s Ear?
Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the outer ear and ear canal caused by bacteria that entered the ear from pool water (actually, the disease can be caused by germs carried into the ear from any water source, but pools typically have a higher microbial load than tap water or other water sources). The image provided by emedicinehealth illustrates the ear structures that can be infected.
The infection develops when bacteria penetrate the ear canal and are left there long enough to multiply to an infectious level. Usually this condition is mild and can be treated with at home care, though it can develop into more serious ailments, especially among people who have diabetes or weakened immune systems. Note that swimmer’s ear causes a painful outer ear, which helps to distinguish the disease from the common childhood middle ear infections.
How to Prevent Swimmer’s Ear
The CDC cautions pool owners to make sure the pool water is sufficiently disinfected to reduce the threat of swimmer’s ear. Although the CDC talks about ensuring there is enough chlorine in the water and that the pH is balanced, an obvious alternative would be to use pool ozone disinfection that has more powerful anti-microbial effects than chlorine, and operates automatically with the pump cycle.
Behavioral prevention is also important. One option is to try to keep the ear dry with a cap or ear covers or plugs. After swimming, dry the ears thoroughly with a clean towel (not a cotton-tip swab or anything that penetrates the ear canal). If an infection occurs anyway, see your doctor.