Keeping the ears dry (water precautions)

The ear canals have very thin, delicate skin, which is usually naturally waterproofed by a thin film of ear secretion. This substance (a component of ear wax) is acidic, and this reduces the chances of bacteria growing in the ear. But this natural protective barrier is easily disrupted by trauma (cotton buds) and infections. The ears will recover once the skin is no longer inflamed and is waterproof again.

When the ears are infected, it is important to avoid any water getting in to them. Water from baths, showers and swimming pools is often contaminated with bacteria and chemicals (including soap and shampoo) which further irritate the ears and slow recovery.

After ear discharge, I usually recommend keeping the ears dry for at least six weeks, to allow the ear canal skin to heal.

When washing hair, do not immerse the head under the bath water. Use a large ball of cotton wool in the bowl of the ear, smeared with a bit of Vaseline. This can be thrown away each time, and is much cleaner than ear plugs for regular use. Angling the affected side downwards has also been shown to help. The ears should not be dried with a towel afterwards: this, too, is contaminated.

I generally advise against swimming for at least six weeks after ear discharge. When starting again, I would suggest using silicone ear putty, moulded into the bowl of the ear(s) and a swimming ear band to cover the ears. These are available online from a variety of manufacturers.

For patients who require the ear(s) to be kept dry long term, it is worth considering having a moulded swim plug made by an audiologist.