Health Watch -- Swimming Infections

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

Swimming is great exercise, but it can make you sick if you're not careful.

Swimming is good for your body, but sometimes it's not so good for your ears. Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say that when water mixes with ear wax in the dark, enclosed space of the ear, it creates the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. The result can be an ear infection often referred to as "swimmer's ear."

Swimmer's ear is easy to prevent with inexpensive over-the-counter drops or a solution of half white vinegar and half rubbing alcohol. These drops are used after swimming, and they help dry up any water that got into the ear canal, making conditions in the ear less inviting for bacteria. Dr. Barbara Schultz, a UT Southwestern ear specialist, says you shouldn't use cotton swabs to dry out your ears. Sticking anything into your ear is a bad idea.

Another swimming-related infection involves the eyes. People who wear contact lenses should remove them before they swim in ponds or lakes. That's because there's an amoeba that may live in those waters that can bind to contact lenses, causing serious damage to the cornea. UT Southwestern doctors say these infections are quite rare, but they can lead to blindness or require a cornea transplant without proper treatment. You can also get this infection from using tap water to rinse contact lenses or from taking a shower with your lenses in. See a doctor if your eyes become red and sore and you notice decreased vision.