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Should outdoor swimmers wear earplugs?

Ear plugs should be in everybody’s kit bag. Becky Horsbrugh explains why

One of the most important pieces of swimming kit is also one of the most overlooked, and the smallest: ear plugs.

There are many reasons why swimmers should wear them, and not just to stop the annoyance of having water stuck in your ears. They are essential to protect your ear health, and your hearing – particularly if you are a regular swimmer.

According to Duncan Collet-Fenson, an audiologist at Aston Hearing, the likelihood of ear infections is significantly increased with exposure to water. Commonly known as Swimmer’s Ear, the infection is caused by bacteria that enters the ear canal usually when swimming (this could be any type of swimming – indoor or outdoor). Ear infections, if left unchecked, can become very nasty and lead to complications which can be difficult to treat.

Less common, but a real risk for open water swimmers, is exostosis. This is otherwise known as Surfer’s Ear and is caused by the effects of long-time exposure to icy wind and chilly water. Over time, these elements can cause the ear canal to develop lumps of bony growth, which can eventually block the ear canal and lead to a significant loss of hearing. Aston Hearing have looked at academic studies that show as many as 80 per cent of surfers, or those who are exposed to cold water, develop Surfer’s Ear after ten years of water activity – or 3,000 hours in the water.

As much as we all love our sport, it really isn’t worth risking developing a hearing impairment by not wearing ear plugs. Most audiologists will recommend custom made plugs. These, however, are not cheap, and there are a whole variety of cheaper options available on the market which are more wallet friendly.

It’s also worth noting the benefit of wearing a swimming hat or neoprene headband with non-custom plugs for extra ear protection.

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Outdoor Swimmer is the magazine for outdoor swimmers by outdoor swimmers. We write about fabulous wild swimming locations, amazing swim challenges, swim training advice and swimming gear reviews.