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The Ears and Their Relation to Swimming

ear, canal, water, drumhead, cotton, wax, delicate, sea and habit


The writer has for years advocated the careful protection of the ears when swimming, and ad vised followers of the sport to protect the same by inserting plugs of cotton wool, which was some what a rule of thumb method; however, since going into the matter fully, I am convinced that this was wrong, in fact, dangerous. Cotton plugs in the ear should never be tolerated for a moment, as the small fragments become attached to the ceruminus fluids (ear wax) and remain in the ear when the cotton is removed. These small frag ments become attached to the ceruminus fluids (ear wax) and work their way through the wax until they come into contact with the delicate membrane of the inner canal, where, owing to the very sensitive terminals of the auditory nerve which ramify throughout the walls of the canal and drumhead, they not only produce an un pleasant sensation, but quite frequently set up an acute irritation and septic conditions. I can positively vouch for one case in particular, which came under my observation, of the dire effect of wearing cotton in the ears while bathing. It was that of a friend of mine who had been in the habit of spending his summer vacation at Newport, U.S.A. He was very fond of .the wa ter, and naturally went in swimming with such regularity that he found it necessary to wear something to protect his ears, not only from the injurious effect of the cold sea water, but also from the dangerous impact of the surf, which, if it catches one just right, will frequently cause rupture of the drumhead and defective hearing, similar in its results to the pernicious habit of boxing a child's ears. Many a child whose ears have been boxed by a thoughtless parent or teacher, has been compelled to go through life handicapped with a defective hearing. So my friend, upon becoming aware of some of the foregoing facts, immediately consulted with the bath attendants as to the best thing to use to keep the water out of his ears. He was advised that cotton was the usual preventative, so he proceeded to stuff his ears with cotton, with the result that part of the cotton, as above described, remained in the ear for nearly ten years, finally setting up septic conditions, from which medi cal treatment gave him little or no relief, until one day, boring in his ear with a hairpin to al lay the terrible itching, he accidentally dislodged the cause of the trouble. It was a small, con caved piece of cotton that had become saturated and hardened with wax. It appears that the spe cialist whom he had consulted from time to time, either through carelessness or thoughtlessness, had failed to examine with due care that useful little pit or catch-basin that nature in her wisdom placed in the floor of the auditory canal just in front of the drumhead for the identical purpose, for which it served only too well in this case, of intercepting any foreign objects, such as cinders, small stones, or insects, from reaching tho delicate drumhead, upon which should an insect crawl for the short period of thirty seconds the patient would become a nervous wreck. I need only say,

that the trouble caused by the impact of the surf, or the more inexcusable habit of ear-boxing, is produced by the sudden and lateral condensation of air into the external canal. This sudden forc ing of air into the ear by a curved hand or a con caved wave, compels the delicate muscles of the drumhead to give way, permitting the latter to sag inwards, causing paralysis and deafness, the degree being determined by the extent of the in jury. There are other reasons, almost too numer ous to enumerate, why swimming, bathing or div ing, should not be indulged in without proper ear protection. It is a well-known fact that water of a low temperature, especially sea water, is excep tionally injurious to the human ear, as it causes congestion of the blood in the small capillaries of the drumhead, often producing abscesses and other complications that frequently prove fatal. Another menace arises from sand and other ex traneous matter which is held in suspension in all water, and is carried into the canal, becomes lodged, and remains behind when the water runs out. The vegetable matter thus deposited in the canal, beyond the reach of soap and water, de composes, setting up disorders that may be hard to overcome. A little grain of sand has also been known to destroy the drumhead by becoming lodged in the crevice of the canal surrounding the drum, the contraction and expansion of which keeps it turning until it cuts its way through that membrane, causing deafness. The large per cent. of salt in sea water is another dangerous factor to the delicate mechanism of the ear, and must be seriously considered. The excess of salt in sea water is washed into the canal of the ear, where it becomes adhered to the wax, incrusting the en tire surface of the canal and drum, just as a rail becomes incrusted with frost in the early fall. This incrustation, it will be seen, closes the mouth of the ceruminous ducts, and, of course, checks the normal flow of the ceruminous fluids into the ear, leaving the outer canal and drumhead without the 'necessary lubricant, exposing them to several ser ious forms of ear diseases. • For further informa tion on this important question,.1 would refer my readers to the Frank Ear Stopple Co., Ohio, U.S.A., or their agents, for their booklet on the subject, which will be mailed free on receipt of a post-card.