If Michael Phelps and Dara Torres have inspired you to hit the pool, let me warn you about an unwanted side effect of spending lots of time in the water — swimmer's ear. When your ear is exposed to excess moisture, (whether you're swimming or bathing), water can stay trapped in your ear canal. Then the skin inside your ear can become soggy and begin to break down. When this happens, water dilutes the acidity of the ear canal allowing bacteria or fungi to penetrate the skin, causing a painful swimmer's ear infection. Actually, you don't even have to be near water in order to contract swimmer's ear since anything that causes a break in the skin of your ear canal can lead to this infection. That's why cleaning your ear with a cotton swab (or sticking anything else in your ear for that matter) is not recommended. Once there's damage to the skin, you're at risk for an infection.
To find out how you can prevent swimmer's ear
Swimmer's ear can cause pain, tenderness, ringing, and itchiness in your ear, so you want to avoid it at all costs. As soon as you're finished with a swim or shower, shake your head to one side and then the other to get excess water out of your ear. Over the counter drops that contain a dilute solution of acetic acid or alcohol can also help dry up your ear canal. Wearing ear plugs while swimming is also a good way to prevent water from entering your ear in the first place. Of course, whether you swim or not, you also want to stop cleaning your ear with cotton swabs.