What can I do to prevent ear infections?

Before we start, I'm not a doctor and don't pretend to be one. Any authoritative opinions regarding treatment and/or prevention of any ailment should be verified with a doctor familiar with the patient's condition and life-style. Damage to an ear due to pressure differences is serious and merits immediate attention of a doctor.

Infection of the external or outer ear canal is often referred to as "swimmer's ear" because it is common among swimmers in summer months. SCUBA divers are susceptible to this ailment because we don't usually enjoy our sport in the cleanest of waters. Our ear infections are generally caused by bacterial or fungal growth that occurs when water is trapped in the ear after diving. Symptoms, incubation time, and severity can vary among divers and water conditions.

There are a number of preventive measures in the form of commercial products that should be used immediately upon exiting the water at the end of the day. Any that are design to prevent swimmer's ear should work well if we remember to use it immediately after diving. Unfortunately, remembering the preventive steps is easier after we have the ear infection.

I learned of a home-made remedy while in Akumal on a cave diving trip. Our trainers used a mixture of equal (3rds) of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2 three percent), vinegar, and alcohol. This mixture creates a slightly acidic environment (vinegar), dries the ear (alcohol), and kills the bacteria and fungi (H2O2 and alcohol). I certainly can't claim it is equal or superior to commercial products, but the ingredients are fairly common, and it seemed to work well for us, and it isn't expensive.

WARNING: If you think that you may already have an ear infection, or think there is a remote chance that you have damaged your ear drum, see your doctor before using any kind of ear drops. You don't want to let the drops serve as a vehicle to carry foreign bodies into the middle ear.

Press here for the menu These are my opinions and are not those of any particular agency.

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Randall C. Allen
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