Updated: Aug 15, 2018
What are they?
Swim plugs are custom-made silicone ear plugs that prevent water from getting into the ears.
How do they work?
The ear plugs are based on an impression or cast of the ear. They fill the entire external part of the ear, effectively sealing out water. Their perfect fit makes them comfortable to wear for long periods of time and means they won’t fall out of the ear. They are made from a silicone that is waterproof and buoyant, so they will float if accidentally dropped in the water.
Who are they for?
Swim plugs are only necessary if there is a clinical reason for them. They are mostly used by people who have:
A perforation. This is a hole in the eardrum. It is imperative that a perforation is kept as dry as possible to avoid infection, and that precautions are taken to stop water from entering the perforation and getting into the middle ear where damage or infection might occur.
Grommets or T-tubes; a treatment for patients with glue ear. These are most common in young children. Grommets are small plastic tubes used to prop open a surgically-made hole in the ear drum in order to help drainage of middle-ear fluid (‘glue’). As with a perforation, it is important the ear is kept dry to prevent water damage and infection.
Swimmer’s ear/otitis externa. Otherwise known as an external ear infection. There are some unlucky people who are prone to otitis externa, and water is a risk factor for this. In some cases, the risk is so great that even water from a shower or bath can trigger an ear infection. Such people will block their ears off every day when washing and swim plugs are an excellent way of doing this – they provide a guaranteed water-tight seal and are very easy to keep clean and disinfect if you do have an active infection.
However, swim plugs can be used by anyone, you don’t necessarily need a hole in your ear drum or an ear infection to justify wearing them! They’re essentially just very effective, comfortable ear plugs for swimming. So for some people who don’t like the feel of water in their ear, especially if they favour front crawl or enjoy diving, custom made swim plugs are a worthwhile investment.
When would I use them?
Swim plugs are worn for swimming, going in the sea/lakes, in water parks and, for some people, when showering or bathing to help prevent ear infections.
Pros and Cons of swim plugs
They are custom made, so are very comfortable
They seal the ear well so that no water gets in
They are buoyant, so can float in water
They are easy to keep clean and wash, minimising risk of infection or cross-contamination
They completely block the ear, making your ear feel very full and you may experience the ‘occlusion effect’ - this is when your own voice and breathing sounds like it’s booming inside your own head.
They require some dexterity to insert them into the ears and to take them out.
You cannot hear anything around you. As well as stopping water from getting in they also reduce sound, so you can’t swim and have a conversation at the same time. Obviously this could be classified as a pro.
Where can I get them?
They are most easily obtained privately. Impressions are required, so you will need to find a local audiologist (such as Ear Mint) or hearing aid dispenser. Boots Hearingcare also do them – like myself, they are distributors of ACS swim moulds which is my favoured brand. ACS specialise in custom ear products and I’ve found their swim plugs are always an excellent fit and quality, and also come with a one year warranty.
In the UK, some NHS audiology departments supply swim plugs but it will depend on your local Trust and funding. Many departments will advise patients with perforations, grommets or ear infections to just avoid swimming, but it’s always worth asking when you are at the ENT or audiology department.
How much do they cost?
They cost between £70-£90. The recommended retail price for ACS ear plugs is £79.
If you’re local to Longridge, Preston and interested in swim plugs, call or email Ear Mint at 07456554557 or email@example.com to book your appointment.
As always, if there are any questions then please comment or feel free to email me. I will do my best to answer them.