How to Protect Your Eyes and Ears in the Ocean

I love to be in the sea. Whether that’s through surfing, diving, or swimming, there’s a thrill and beauty to be found in being in the ocean; be it in warm and tropical waters or the freezing cold (OK on second thought, maybe just warm!).

But have you ever considered the hidden dangers of the sea? I’m not talking about rip tides or sharks, but something that gets a lot fewer headlines but affects a lot of people, myself included. I’m talking about your precious little eyes and ears.

There’s nothing worse than sore eyes or a throbbing ear ache after you’ve been for a dip, so to help you keep yourself super healthy whilst in the water, here’s my guide to some of the more common problems and how to avoid them.

Surfer’s Ear

If you’re a keen surfer, chances are you will have heard of surfer’s ear. It’s a common condition often found in people who spend a lot of time in cold water surf.

Regular exposure of the outer ear to cold water can, weirdly, result in bone growth within the ear canal, known as ‘exostosis’. These growths appear as bulges in the ear canal and in some circumstances, if they grow large enough, they can completely block the canal resulting in hearing loss.

As the canal narrows, the likelihood of nasty bacteria and debris becoming stuck increases, and this can result in ear infections with associated hearing loss (usually temporary).

The simple solution for surfer’s ear is to ensure that you wear earplugs whenever you go into the water. Custom-made swim plugs create a watertight seal, preventing the cold sea water from entering the ear in the first place. If you develop surfer’s ear, it is treatable. However, the removal of bone growth involves a precise operation that can result in some complications and extended time away from the water so as always, prevention is better than cure.

Ocean Eyecare

Some people are quick to assume that seawater is naturally a lot healthier for your eyes than the chlorine-rich water found in public swimming pools. But always be careful as you are unlikely to know exactly what you are swimming in.

The beach on a scorching summer’s day certainly looks inviting but remember that the contents of seawater can cause eye irritation and infection. The sea contains high levels of salt, grains of sand, bacteria, and can sometimes even contain sewage!

Consider wearing goggles or a swimming mask with full UV protection to protect your eyes, especially if you wear contact lenses. There’s a high risk of infection and irritation when swimming with contact lenses. If there’s no other option other than to wear contact lenses when swimming, then the best advice is to wear daily disposables along with watertight goggles and dispose of the lenses immediately after swimming.

Swimmer’s Ear

Not to be confused with surfer’s ear, swimmer’s ear is a condition whereby the external ear canal becomes inflamed. Known as otitis externa, symptoms include severe ear pain, itchiness of the ear canal, temporary hearing loss, and – gross –  discharge from the ear.

It’s tempting but you should never insert cotton wool buds or fingers into your ears as this can damage the skin in your ear canal. Once you’ve scratched yourself and the wound comes into contact with seawater, there’s a high chance that it will become infected.

Like with surfer’s ear, the best way to prevent this condition is by wearing custom-made swim plugs in the water. Be sure to visit your GP if you develop any symptoms, as you can be prescribed ear drops that may clear the infection within a few days. Mild cases can sometimes improve naturally without treatment, though this process will often take up to several weeks.

Don’t let any of these risks stop you from getting active in the water as it’s ultimately a fantastic platform for exercise that’s hugely beneficial to your health – not to mention being great fun!

At Leightons, expert optometrists and audiologists are accustomed to the altercations that can arise from being in the water and can provide treatment and advice to those with concerns. Get in touch for ear and eyecare advice or book an appointment at your local branch.

Disclosure: This article was brought to you in collaboration with Leightons.

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Hayley is the author behind A Life of More, a travel and lifestyle blog with the goal of helping you to live a happier and more fulfilled life, whether you're currently travelling or happily settled.

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