June 29, 2009

Anyone can get swimmer’s ear

People who swim in pools and lakes this summer should remember their refreshing swims can lead to painful ear infections, a U.S. expert says.

Dr. Barbara Schultz, associate professor of otolaryngology -- head and neck surgery -- at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, recommends treating ears after leaving the water for the day with over-the-counter drops that cost about $3 per bottle or with a 50-50 mix of white vinegar and rubbing alcohol.

When water mixes with ear wax, that's a perfect growth medium for bacteria in a dark, somewhat enclosed space like the ear, Schultz says in a statement. Swimmer's ear is painful, and the antibiotics we use to treat it are much more expensive than the preventive measures.

People with surgically implanted tubes or damaged eardrums often can swim, but they should do so with a doctor's approval, Schultz adds.

They also should not apply drying drops or vinegar and alcohol after swimming. It would not damage the ear, but it would be very painful, Schultz says. If they did it once, they wouldn't do it again.