Audio is a passion of mine. In fact, my degree is in audio engineering. I also grew up with a member of my family who has moderate hearing loss including high frequency hearing loss. My next door neighbor growing up was a speech pathologist. Suffice to say, I have a fairly extensive knowledge of how ear function and care. In pursuit of my degree I took very good care of my hearing. I always wore earplugs at concerts, I never turned my headphones above 85 db, and I regularly did frequency tests. I took care of my hearing, not always my ears.
How it happens
We take our equilibrium for granted. We do not think about our sense of balance that often, but when it's gone, about the only thing we can do is lay on the couch. When I was in middle school, we visited some friends who had a condo with a community pool. I went swimming, felt fine when I went to bed, then woke up to a pain that I can only describe as having a pencil shoved into my ear. The pools chlorine levels were lower than they should have been. This less than quality water in my ear caused me to get an ear infection that I will never forget. Aside from the excruciating pain and pressure my ear felt, I could not hear out of it, and my balance started to leave me. I almost had to be carried into the doctor's office because I was so dizzy. The doctor took his otoscope and yanked on my earlobe to take a look. I screamed, he apologized and he very gently tried again. He didn’t really need to look into my ear to see the infection was severe. After a few days bound to the couch and a two week run on antibiotics I was able to bounce back. That experience was a good reminder of something I never want to relive.
Unless you can check the chlorine levels at a pool, it is a bit of a gamble of whether or not you may get an ear infection. Part of the problem is that moisture trapped inside our ears warms up with our body heat. Warm moist places are the perfect environment for bacteria to grow.
While not always the most comfortable, water specific ear plugs are an excellent way to prevent water from getting into your ears. The important part of this however, is to keep them in. Taking them off repeatedly, allowing them to get wet and not properly sanitizing them before putting them back on might actually raise your risk of infection. You are trapping that moisture in your ears and then sealing it in.
Dry You Ears
After drying off your hands, tilt your head sideways and hold that position for a few moments. With a clean towel, dry the outer part of your ear to make sure rouge water droplets do not sneak back in. Another method that works well (if done correctly), take a blow dryer and on the lowest warm setting hold about ten inches away from your ear and slowly bring it closer. If at any point you feel discomfort, back it away.
My personal favorite for helping get water out of your ears, chew gum with Xylitol. The constant motion of your jaw helps push any excess water out, but according to a study from the Cochrane Collaboration, Xylitol (a sweetening sugar alcohol) may actually help reduce ear infections as well as respiratory infections.
An ear infection will not only put you out of commission for a few days, it can put you out of the pool for weeks. Take care of your ears, not just your hearing.