How to prevent ear infections when diving: 5 tips
If you are an avid scuba diver, or just like watersports in general, you may have experienced the dreaded 'swimmer's ear', an outer ear infection that is sore and unpleasant and can ruin a great diving holiday in Bali, or elsewhere... A combination of wet ears, wind and tropical climate make it the perfect place for bacteria to thrive and cause an uncomfortable infection, which can get worse if not treated.
How can you prevent this from happening to make sure you enjoy every single day of diving Nusa Penida? Here is Purple Dive Penida's handful of useful tips, gleaned from years of experience.
Tip 1: Equalise early and often when scuba diving
Equalizing early will not only prevent potential damage to your ear drum but also means you are gentle with your ear preventing inflammation that could trap water and increase the chance of infection. Freedivers even 'pop' their ears even before they put their head underwater, so, if you are really sensitive, consider doing this, or, at any rate, every meter as soon as you start descending on your fun dives or diving course. Your ears will thank you for this.
Tip 2: Cover your ears when returning from diving
The wind is the main cause of ear infections. On the way back from diving, the breeze on the boat/ van constantly enters the ear. It cools it down drastically, and, like when you catch an infection from a 'cold', the reduced blood circulation allows the bacteria to thrive and create ear infections. If you are prone to these, bring a hood or scarf to cover your ears and keep them nice and toasty. You should also be careful of wet ears in the air-con. Make sure you dry your ears before you go to sleep and avoid sleeping with your air-con blowing directly onto your face/head.
A lot of our divers giggle at Helene's ski hat that she puts on as soon as she gets out of the water, but that is the reason why!
Tip 3: Rinse and dry your ears after diving
Sea water is often quite dirty, contrary to popular belief, especially when you are near inhabited coasts. Leaving it in your ears after scuba diving will increase the possibility of infection. When you have finished diving, use drinking water to rinse out your ears then dry them thoroughly. Those pesky bacteria won't stand a chance and your fun diving in Nusa Penida will be saved!
Tip 4: Disinfect/ treat your ears and monitor them
If you start feeling discomfort after a dive, immediately react! If it's sore when you gently pull your ear lobe down after diving, it's time to put some drops in. You can start with swimmers' ear / disinfectant / anti-inflammatory drops, but, if there is no rapid improvement, it may be time to get on the antibiotic drops. Make sure you monitor your ears and if they are getting worse, go see a doctor, you may need oral antibiotics if the infection is bad. Make sure you seek medical help early because an untreated infection can really damage your ear and hence your future diving ability (and pleasure, and holiday). Only dive again if you are sure your ear is ok.
Tip 5: Do not use cotton buds
Cotton buds and vigorous ear cleaning are actually not good for your ears. The wax is there for a reason, it protects the fragile environment and prevents it from going septic. If you feel you have a big wax build-up creating a plug or blockage, seek medical help or you can try some of the home remedies described below, though they are not medically sanctioned as of yet. Earwax blockage can create a space for fungus to grow which in turn is a great host for ear infections.
Bonus tip: Grandma's recipes (that might help prevent dive-related ear infections)
To clean and protect the ears, there are a number of home remedies that work to varying extents.
* Diluted Apple cider Vinegar rinses will help rid you of ear fungus but don't do this for an extended time or you will also kill the good bacteria that protect your ear.
* Warmed olive oil infused with garlic or tea tree essential oil ('Bokashi' also works) can help ease out earwax plugs and clean your ears, leaving a protective coating.
* If you are feeling adventurous, ear-candle is said to help clear earwax plugs too, though again, there is no medical evidence to support this.