Since using in-ear headphones does increase bacterial growth in your ears, the headphones I use for running are no exception. Plus, there's the chance of developing swimmer's ear, which occurs when water — or anything else, cotton swabs included — gets into your inner ear and breaks down the skin, allowing bacteria inside.
Luckily I'm not sweating profusely enough to warrant shaking out any excess sweat that gets into my ear canal after a long run — how funny would that look? But to minimize ear infection risk, it's important to keep your earbuds clean, especially after a long sweaty workout or after storing them in a stuffy gym bag.
While we know that listening to loud music can cause hearing loss, now we have a new thing to worry about when it comes to using earbuds. A study published in the Online Journal of Health and Allied Sciences has found that frequent use of earphones greatly increases the bacterial growth in the ear. If you share earbuds with a friend, say on the bus or while watching a movie on a laptop, bacteria can transfer from your friend's earbud to your ear. If that happens, it can lead to a painful ear infection. So the bottom line is to use your own earbuds, or thoroughly clean the set you're going to share.
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 read more
DrSugar is in the house and answering your questions.
I have a friend who was banned from swimming as a child. She grew up with a pool in her backyard and developed a serious ear infection that landed her in the hospital. Her doctor told her that if she ever swam again she could die. Is this lifelong ban from swimming warranted? Is there such an ear infection that could kill you? I cannot imagine not swimming.
To see DrSugar's answer, just read more
Last month we went over the signs and symptoms of realizing when a stomachache may require a visit to the doctor, recently I was confronted with a similar issue — an earache. I used to think that ear infections were just a problem for babies and small children, but adults can suffer from them, too. While earaches can be a symptom of a cold, that ache can turn into an infection. Since ear infections require antibiotics (earaches generally subsides when the cold goes away), your ears might need some medical attention.
Here are symptoms to look for when an earache has evolved into an ear infection, meaning time to visit your doctor.
- Loss of appetite. This may be apparent in young children, especially during bottle feedings. Pressure changes in the middle ear as the child swallows, causing more pain.
- Poor sleep. Pain may be more persistent when lying down as fluid is shifting.
- Fever. Ear infections can cause temperatures up to 104°F.
- Vertigo. You may have a sense of spinning.
- Drainage from the ear. Yellow, brown, or white fluid that isn't earwax may seep from the ear, indicating the eardrum has ruptured.
- Difficulty hearing. Fluid build-up in the middle ear prevents the eardrum from functioning properly. The sound is then unable to be transmitted to the bones of the middle ear and from there to the brain.
Your ears are pretty remarkable. Their unique design helps to tip water out of your ear canal, so you can usually bathe, shower, swim, and even walk in the rain with no problems. The ear canal is also acidic which prevents against bacterial and fungal infections.
However, if your ear is exposed to excess moisture (like if you're swimming a lot), the water can stay trapped in your ear canal. This skin can then get soggy and break down, diluting the acidity and allowing bacteria or fungi to penetrate through the skin, causing an infection called swimmer's ear.
The weird thing is that you don't have to swim to get swimmer's ear. Anything that causes a break in the skin of your ear canal will cause this infection - that's why cleaning your ear with a cotton swab is NOT recommended - if you damage the skin, you could risk getting swimmer's ear.
What are the symptoms? PAIN! The ear may also feel itchy or full. The outer ear may turn red or get swollen, and the lymph nodes around the ear may become enlarged and tender. There may be discharge - clear at first, but then turn cloudy, yellowish, and pus-like. Hearing, understandably, is affected as well.
Fun stuff, huh? So what do you do if you have swimmer's ear? To find out, read more
If you have young kids, you already know ear infections are a part of childhood. Children are susceptible to them because when they're sick, kids have a hard time getting the mucus out of their body. They're just beginning to learn the vital skill of blowing their nose. The mucus ends up draining into their ears, causing severely painful infections.
You can make many a trip to your pediatrician to have your kid's ears examined. Wouldn't it be great if you could check your children's ears at home without a doctor?
The EarCheck Middle Ear Monitor might be just the gadget you need. For $49.95, you can check your own child's ear to see if they have an infection. Just like the one at the doctor's office, this one uses sound waves to detect if there is fluid in the middle ear.
Checking your child's ear is quick and painless - if you can get them to hold still (I always find that element a problem). The EarCheck Monitor has an easy to read display and with the information you can decide if a doctor's visit is necessary.