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February 2023    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 49, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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A Painful Ear Infection from Polluted Indonesian Seas

from the February, 2023 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

I developed a nasty ear infection after a Mandarin fish dive (dive number 1000!) we did off the Blue Manta liveaboard in a filthy harbor in front of a small Indonesian village, Maulana, Banda, on Neira Harbor. Swimmer's Ear presents as pain, swelling, and a feeling of pressure or fullness in the ear. On board, they had antibiotic ear drops, which didn't help, so I added amoxicillin, which they had on board. Despite a few days of this treatment, the infection continued progressing, which was surprising since it should have worked (I'm a pharmacist).

I did some research and determined that recent rain had washed sewage into the harbor, and likely my infection was caused by a highly resistant, hard-to-treat bacteria from fecal matter) that required a second antibiotic, ciprofloxacin. As soon as we returned to port, the director sent a driver to a local resort and picked up some.

Without my medical background, proper treatment would have been delayed, and a trip to a medical center would have been necessary. However, the antibiotics knocked out the good bacteria in my gut, and I developed nausea and diarrhea. The following week I was one of four people who had food poisoning.

I missed the last day of diving and the first two days of diving on the second boat, the Aliikai Voyage, all because of diving in sh*t, and I was even wearing a hood. It could have been prevented by rinsing my ears immediately after diving and using antibiotic drops.

The Blue Manta cruise director said divers get ear infections on this trip every week. So, why not be proactive and do something to prevent it? Disclose the possibility of infection and suggest a thorough rinsing of ears with fresh water, followed by antibiotic ear drops after the dive for those who chose to dive. Likely, this would have prevented my ear infection. I shudder to think of the cost of those missed dives.

In the future, if I'm concerned about water pollution after a dive, I would immediately rinse my ears in a freshwater shower and instill antibiotic ear drops, continuing the treatment for at least five days and hoping there was no fecal contamination. It seems excessive to travel with oral antibiotics when they're rarely needed.

- Catherine May,
Barrie, Ontario, Canada

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