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Ear infections a constant problem

Discussion in 'Diving Medicine Q&A' started by janer, Jan 31, 2012.

  1. Blue Sparkle

    Blue Sparkle Captain

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Chesapeake Bay
    Just a note in that that looks like the same concept as the "Sahara" dry ear device I mentioned. Not that I'm saying the Sahara is better - I have no idea as I have never used either one - but just to let you know that we're talking about the same thing in concept.

    Added: Aha, I went to look up the "Sahara," since I couldn't remember the exact name, and I found the "Mack" dry ear that doctormike just mentioned and it says "formerly Sahara Dry Ear." So they are apparently one and the same.
  2. Blue Sparkle

    Blue Sparkle Captain

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Chesapeake Bay
    That's interesting. I'm almost positive that the book I had recommended "normal strength" rubbing alcohol like you would find at the store (which I think is usually 90% or maybe 75%? Not 50% at any rate) but diluted 50/50 with alcohol. In other words, the mixture is 50% alcohol and 50% vinegar. I wonder if that is where you got the "50%" from? I have used it for days on end (for months on end!) and had no drying problems, but that is just one case of course.

    Next time I run across the book I'll double check.

    Blue Sparkle
  3. UW Travel Solutions

    UW Travel Solutions Registered

    # of Dives:
    Location: Arlington, Texas
    My ENT told me to use the following items on a dive and it has made a huge difference.


    1. If you are a person that cleans out your ears with q-tips, then you need to place 1 drop of olive oil into your ears prior to each dive. The ear wax that we have in our ears helps the water to run back out, when you remove it from your ears the water can get stuck easier than if you had it. The Olive Oil will replace the ear wax.

    2. Use Doc's Pro Plugs while diving, you must use the vented type for diving. The ear plugs allow water to enter however you do not have the water constantly being replaced. Their website is Doc's Proplugs: The Doctor's Choice for Ear Protection you can contact them and they will point you to a local store that has them in your area.

    3. After each dive use a homemade solution of 50% alcohol and 50% vinegar. The alcohol will help to remove the water and the vinegar serves to kill out the bacteria.

    Since using this formula I have only had 1 ear infection in the last 7 years from diving. I am an instructor and log about 400 dives per year so this saved me!!
  4. DandyDon

    DandyDon Old men ought to be explorers ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: One kilometer high on the Texas Central Plains
    Yep, my mistake on the definition of rubbing alcohol. :blush:

    Your approach is well recognized as a good one. I've read so many different mixes from so many different authorities that I get confused. All of them are probably good, with different mixes working better for different folks.
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2012
  5. doctormike

    doctormike Contributor Staff Member

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: New York City
    Here's the thing about most topical ear preparations (powders and drops). They are not FDA approved. This doesn't mean that they are dangerous, it just means that unlike Viagra, there isn't a big market for them and few drug companies want to spend the millions that it takes to do the research to get FDA approval for such a small market.

    The point of a topical eardrop in this context (that is, to treat swimmer's ear, AKA otitis externa, without using antibiotic/steroid drops) is that it dries the ear and drops the pH (i.e. makes the ear canal more acidic). This is done because the most common ear canal organisms (pseudomonas species) don't grow well in dry, acidic environments.

    SO, you really don't need a lot of vinegar to drop the pH, and the more vinegar you put in the mix, the more water you put in the mix, and the less efficiently the alcohol dries the ear. I tell patients to take a standard pint bottle of rubbing alcohol, pour a bit out and put in 2-3 tablespoons of white vinegar. Is that the precise optimum mixture? Not clear, since there isn't a lot of research to back it up. But it's a good compromise that will keep the ear dry and acidic. Some people add glycerin to prevent overdrying - I think that if you don't use this stuff excessively that isn't a huge problem.

    The ear dryer is also helpful. If there is a lot of impacted wax, that will hang onto the water and inflammatory debris and make any treatment less effective, so if you can get that stuff cleaned out ahead of time, it's a good idea.

    Plugs are controversial. Some people have used them without injury and swear by them. I don't recommend them because they can be unpredictable, and result in outer ear barotrauma (if the venting gets clogged), as well as sudden inrushes of water causing a cold caloric response and vertigo. Better to just prevent the otitis externa with the dryer and the LIMITED use of the drops.

  6. Rich Keller

    Rich Keller Contributor

    # of Dives: 5,000 - ∞
    Location: Long Island NY
    Forget all the solutions and gadgets all you need is 190 proof grain alcohol not rubbing alcohol. You only need to do two things, kill whatever is in the water in your ears and dry them out. Get as much water out of your ears by whatever method works best for you then use 190 proof grain alcohol in each ear. This is 95% alcohol that will kill anything living in the water and will dry with the least amount of residue left behind. With these other solutions you will be leaving a lot more moisture behind along with chemicals that may cause the same type of problem you are trying to prevent. If your ear canal is very narrow you may need to do this more then once but it is simple, cheap and it works better then anything I have ever used.
  7. doctormike

    doctormike Contributor Staff Member

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: New York City
    Or, you could just drink the grain alcohol at the end of each diving day, and then you wouldn't care about having swimmer's ear...!

    Angry Turtle likes this.
  8. hmarashi

    hmarashi Registered

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: Santee, CA
    I use the swimmers ear drops the most. I have had ear infections and what I did, was pour a capful of hydrogen peroxide into my ear and let it set for about 5 min.
    After about 2-3 hours pour some warm olive oil into my ears. No more ear aches!
    My parents used olive oil to help my ear aches as a child.
  9. Ulfhedinn

    Ulfhedinn Contributor

    # of Dives: None - Not Certified
    Location: Southern California
    25% white vinegar and 75% 9o proof rubbing alcohol, mixed together is what I have been using and its held up well.
  10. Blue Sparkle

    Blue Sparkle Captain

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Chesapeake Bay
    Slight tangent, and sounds unrelated to the OP's problem, but I just noticed this and thought I would comment.

    The type of infection it sounds like the OP is describing is in the outer ear. From what I understand (and have experienced mildly), a feeling of fullness is not typically in the outer ear, and not related to having water (from the ocean or pool) in your ear. Instead, it's from (middle ear) barotrauma, which is caused by a pressure differential (probably related to ear clearing or not-clearing). That pressure differential draws body fluid into your middle ear and makes it feel full. But it's not "outside" water like you would have in your outer ear (which is why it doesn't drain out).

    I had a case of mild barotrauma not too long ago, and from what I can tell it was caused by a combination of a lot of up/down in shallow water, combined with a hood that was sealing over my ear and changing my clearing dynamics. I had the slight feeling of fullness and some crackling when I chewed. (However I did not have symptoms of more severe barotrauma, such as muffled hearing, ringing, or infection). Mine cleared up over the following day. I think some cases take a week or weeks, if they are more severe. From what I understand, you basically just have to wait for it to re-absorb (although some people try things such as decongestants).

    So, maybe you are either not clearing soon enough or often enough, or you have a hood causing a problem or something of that sort?

    If you want to find out more (and read posts by actual doctors vs. my amateur synopsis), there are quite a few threads which would probably come up by searching "barotrauma" "middle ear."

    (I have had water very temporarily "stick" in my outer ear, but it usually runs out shortly thereafter.)

    Blue Sparkle

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