Do Swimming Caps Keep Water Out of Your Ears?

Do Swimming Caps Keep Water Out of Ears

Don’t you hate it when water gets in your ears? I don’t just mean a little bit on the outside; I mean really get in there where everything sounds muffled and you have to tilt your head sideways, maybe even do a little tap or a jump to try to get the water out.

You struggle to get the water out to no avail so you just hope it will dry naturally on its own, and then a few days later you have an ear infection. This is a tale as old as time, and swimmer’s ear (ear infections) are no joke.

If you’ve experienced this before, then you are probably looking into ways to prevent water from getting in your ears. You realize that swimming caps, something swimmers already wear, can be worn a little bit lower to cover the ears. Perhaps this is the solution you’re looking for?

Unfortunately, in the same way that swim caps don’t keep one’s hair dry, neither do they keep one’s ears dry. A little bit of water can still get inside, and to make matters worse, a swim cap can trap the water in the ear canal when it would’ve naturally flowed out otherwise. Swim caps may be more effective at keeping water out of one’s ears if used in conjunction with another product such as swimming ear plugs or a waterproof headband.

In this article, we will discuss tips and tricks on the various ways you can use a swim cap and other gear to keep water out of your ears so that you can avoid the dreaded swimmer’s ear.

What is swimmer’s ear?

Otitis externa, colloquially referred to as swimmer’s ear, is an infection of the outer ear canal caused by bacteria in water. People who spend a lot of time in the water tend to get this type of ear infection, primarily swimmers, hence the name.

When water gets in your ear canal, it creates the optimal environment for bacterial growth. Sometimes water that is in your ears may take 1-2 days to dry on its own, and during this time, bacteria is multiplying and can result in an infection.

There is a thin layer of skin lining your ear canal that discourages bacterial growth. This thin layer of skin can get damaged by cotton swabs, hairpins, fingernails, or other foreign objects, all of which should not go in your ear canal. It can also simply be overwhelmed by the number of bacteria in your ear.

As a swimmer, your ears will be frequently exposed to water, therefore you are more susceptible to swimmer’s ear than the average person. It is recommended that you find a way to either: a) prevent water from reaching your ears in the first place, or b) thoroughly dry your ears afterwards the proper way. Let’s discuss A first before moving onto B.

Understanding the swim cap’s purpose

Many people have misconceptions on what a swim cap can and can’t do. The first misconception is that it is worn to keep one’s hair dry. Following this wrong line of thinking, people therefore think that it can also keep one’s ear dry.

Many are shocked and assume that there is something wrong with their cap or that they picked the wrong size when a little bit of water inevitably seeps in. That’s perfectly according to design – if a swim cap kept your head completely dry, it would also cause you to overheat because of how warm it would get.

Another factor to consider is the swim cap material. The most popular swim cap materials are latex, lycra, and silicone. Out of these three, silicone is the thickest, most dense, and the only material that does not allow water to pass through it, but rather around it. Latex and lycra on the other hand cannot prevent water from seeping through, so of course you’ll get wet.

If swim caps don’t keep your hair or ears dry, then what function do they serve? They are worn to keep a swimmer’s hair in check, especially if they have long hair, by keeping it packed down tightly and streamlining their head shape. This reduces a swimmer’s underwater drag, allowing her to swim faster.

Notice how the swim cap has very little to do with keeping a swimmer’s head dry. That said, silicone swim caps can, at the very least, limit how much water one’s hair and ears are exposed to. There is still some benefit to be had with keeping the head dry, but a swim cap alone is not enough.

To keep your ears dry while swimming, you need to wear a swim cap in addition to swimming ear plugs or a waterproof headband that covers your ears. Alone, a swim cap may actually make the situation worse by trapping the water that reaches your ears.

Get the proper swim cap

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If you want your ears to be protected from the water and feel comfortable, then you need a swim cap designed with ear protection in mind.

Some swim caps specifically have a small pocket for your ears. This alleviates the pressure that a tight swim cap could exert on your ears, and reduces the amount of water that flows in your ears.

Consider getting one of these swim caps over a traditional one if you want to reduce ear infections and feel comfortable while doing so.

Wear ear plugs with a swim cap

Unlike swim caps, swimming ear plugs are designed to keep water out of your ears. Keep in mind, there is a difference between swimming ear plugs and regular ear plugs. Regular ear plugs are typically made out of foam and are not intended to be submerged underwater.

The two most popular types of ear plugs are silicone ear plugs and moldable wax earplugs. Silicone earplugs are advantageous because they are waterproof and reusable, whereas moldable earplugs are disposable.

Silicone ear plugs also typically have a small hole in them. The hole is small enough that water cannot seep through, but air can. The advantage here is that if you are diving underwater and you feel pressure in your ears, you can release the pressure in your ears by pinching your nose and blowing thanks to that small hole.

As useful as swimming ear plugs are, a downside is that sometimes they can simply pop out of your ears or dislodge ever so slightly, allowing water to enter. That’s where swim caps come in.

By wearing a swim cap over your ear plugs, you have additional support to keep it inside. The swim cap will prevent most of the water from entering, and what little water enters will be kept out of your ears by the ear plugs.

Alone, each item has a higher chance of failing to keep water out of your ears, but together they are more effective.

How to dry your ears after swimming

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If you are wearing your swim cap over your ears and also wearing a swimming ear plug, then hopefully you are keeping most of the water out already. However, not everybody likes this solution. Covering your ears blocks out sounds and some swimmers just find it uncomfortable to cover or plug up their ear canal.

Swimmers who would rather not cover up their ears or wear ear plugs must be experts at safely drying their ears afterwards. To be clear, drying your ears with a cotton swab is something you should NOT do.

Here are some appropriate methods to safely dry your ear after swimming:

  • Use drying ear drops. You can buy drying drops or you can mix a solution yourself by combining 1 part white vinegar with 1 part rubbing alcohol. Add one teaspoon (5ml) into your ear, wait a minute or so, and then drain it. Repeat for the other ear. Alcohol is a desiccant, i.e. a dehydrating agent that induces a state of dryness, hence why this is so effective.
  • Blow your ears with a hair dryer. Set it to low heat and keep the hair dryer at least a foot away from your ear. Blow dry your ear.
  • Use an ear dryer. Ear dryers can gently blow air directly into your ear canal, improving air circulation and allowing your ears to dry quickly.

These tips are important to know whether you are wearing a swim cap to keep water out of your ears or not, because sometimes water finds a way into your ear canal. You don’t want to risk leaving it there because it may take days before it dries out, greatly increasing your chances of developing swimmer’s ear.

That said, wearing swimming ear plugs with a swim cap, if done correctly, should keep all of the water out of your ears so you can avoid this issue in the first place.

Last update on 2022-12-04 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API