Prophylactic Use of EardropsFor most divers, eardrops are not necessary after diving. The purpose of most eardrops is to prevent external ear canal infections (known as otitis externa or swimmer's ear). Infections of the ear canal are associated with persistent moisture as well as local skin trauma, which can result from inserting cotton swabs or other objects into the ears that can damage the thin skin lining the ear canal. As DAN medical information specialists are fond of saying, "Don't put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear." Persistent moisture and local skin trauma can enable bacterial overgrowth and infection.
Eardrops are formulated to help dry the ear after exposure and lower the acidity (pH), making the external ear canal an unfriendly environment for bacterial or fungal colonization and infection. Common ingredients include acetic acid (the active ingredient in vinegar), boric acid, aluminum acetate, sodium acetate, isopropyl alcohol and glycerin. The acids alter pH, which retards bacterial growth; aluminum acetate and sodium acetate are astringents, which shrink tissues. Isopropyl alcohol helps dry the tissues, and glycerin may help lubricate the skin to prevent excessive drying.
For divers plagued by swimmer's ear, gently rinsing the ears with freshwater after each dive may help. Drying the ears with a hair dryer may also be helpful, but take care to ensure the air is not too hot.
Therapeutic Use of EardropsEardrops can be prescribed by your physician to treat infection or inflammation of the external ear canal. These drops may contain antibiotics and/or steroids.
Note: It is important to never put drops into the ear canal if eardrum rupture is suspected. Normally the eardrum serves as a barrier to the middle-ear space. If ruptured, contamination or medications harmful to the inner ear can gain access.