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Hearing aids, cochlear implants and swim moulds

Photo: Hearing aids and cochlear implants aren't designed to be submerged in water

Hearing aids and cochlear implants aren’t designed to be submerged in water. However, swim moulds, ear putty and neoprene headbands can be used to protect your child’s ears in the water.

Here’s a round-up of tips and practical advice to help your deaf child protect their ears when swimming.

Can my child wear hearing aids or cochlear implants when swimming?

Hearing aids and cochlear implants are expensive pieces of equipment and most aren’t designed to be around water:

  • Children using a cochlear implant are usually fine to go swimming providing the external parts of the implant (the speech processor and headpiece) have been removed.
  • Make sure hearing aids are taken out of your child’s ear when swimming as water will damage them. Store them safely in a waterproof container or dry bag with your child’s name on it.

 What about waterproof hearing aids?

  • Fully waterproof digital hearing aids which can be used for bathing and sports are now becoming available and are suitable for some types and levels of deafness. Talk to your GP or audiologist about options available for your child.

  • Many hearing aids are now described aswater resistant - however wearers still need to be careful when swimming or bathing and make sure they’re not fully immersed in water.

Can my child swim if they have grommets?

Some surgeons will advise you not to let your child swim with grommets to prevent direct access of water into the middle ear which can lead to ear infections. However, if the surgeon does allow them to swim you should still take a few precautions:

  • Don't take your child swimming for at least 3 weeks after grommet surgery.
  • Don’t swim in lakes or non-chlorinated pools (e.g. where the water may have a high bacteria count).
  • Don’t let them dive or jump into the water (this forces water through the grommet into the middle ear).
  • Wear a swimming cap.
  • Use swim moulds and neoprene headbands (see below).
  • For more information about bathing with grommets see our section on treating glue ear.

What’s the best way to stop water getting in the ears during bathing, swimming or water sports?

  • Swim moulds, custom-made swim moulds, ear putty and neoprene headbands can be used to protect your child’s ears from water. You just need to remember that both ear putty and swim moulds will temporarily increase your child’s level of deafness. So, if your child has mild deafness and is usually able to hear many sounds without their hearing aids, they will hear less.
  • Swim moulds are recommended for children who have:
    • had surgery to insert a grommet into the eardrum to treat glue ear
    • have recurrent ear infections or perforated eardrums.
  • Swim moulds, like hearing aids, come in a range of different styles and colours. They may have small handles to allow easy insertion or removal, and have a neck cord attached between the two. They are usually manufactured in a material that floats in case they come out of the ear. If swim moulds are needed for medical reasons the NHS audiology department will normally make them for your child free of charge. They can also be purchased privately from audiology departments or private high street hearing aid dispensers.
  • Custom-made swim moulds are made for your individual child by taking an impression of the shape of the ears. This is then manufactured into a silicone swim mould. Custom swim moulds need to be remade regularly as your child grows to ensure they still fit.
  • Mouldable ear putty is available from chemists or specialist swim shops.
  • Neoprene headbands are designed to help keep swim moulds or ear putty in place. They’re generally not necessary for many deaf children. However, if your doctor advises that water should be kept out of your child’s ears this is definitely an option worth considering.

What’s the best way to use ear putty or swim moulds?

  • Remember that ear putty and swim moulds should only be used on or near the surface of the water. They are not suitable for underwater swimming or diving.
  • Make sure your child wears a tight-fitting swim cap or a neoprene headband while swimming.
  • Use a thin layer of petroleum jelly (e.g. Vaseline) to help put the mould in and to maintain a good seal around the edge of the mould.
  • Ear putty and swim moulds should only be used by the child they are purchased for (never share).