After a few days of great diving you notice that your ear starts to feel a bit itchy, waking the next morning you feel pain when you touch the outer ear. We ask our diving doctors what this is, the causes and of course ways this can be prevented.
This condition is more commonly known as otitis externa, and is also sometimes known as swimmers ear. The skin is not designed to be immersed for long periods of time, if you think of how your skin looks after a long bath you can imagine what happens to the skin of the ear canal after a dive. The sea is full of particles, plankton and bacteria which thrive in the lovely warm and dark confines of the ear canal. Coupled with the skins natural bacteria and the softening of the skin the skin cells swell and pull apart allowing the bacteria to migrate under the skin and multiply. The itching is the first symptom and if left may spread to the lymph nodes causing pain around the jaw area and sometimes an obvious infection.
Treatment is simple and depending on how early this is caught can range from simple drops to anti-biotics and pain killers. It is important that you are examined by a doctor as they need to ensure that there is no damage to the ear drum (drops with a perforated ear drum can cause serious and permanent damage). A different diagnosis should also be considered, as itching can also indicate a fungal infection.
More important let’s look at ways to prevent this, there are commercially available solutions to disinfect and dry the ear canal, however these can not be used on a long term basis so aside from a week long diving holiday these can not be used regularly. The best method is a complete rinse with fresh water after every dive and drying with a hairdryer on low, or with a piece of clean cotton. Resist the temptation to clean the wax out of the ears with cotton buds, this wax is the ears natural defense as it helps the skin repel water. Removing of wax and vigorous cleaning will actually worsen the situation.
Remember any ear pain needs to be checked by a qualified doctor as there are many other possible reasons for your discomfort.
Dr. Adel Taher & Dr. Ahmed Sakr: your diving docs
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