I am writing this in the hopes that my experience may enlighten others and that they may learn from my mistakes. It may be considered educational but know the facts are not entirely verified.
I was recently diagnosed as having Otitis media or otherwise known as an inner ear infection. This is an uncommon ailment in adults in general but diving increases the relative risks of developing this condition. That being said, even though how I came to have an infection is not known, I believe it is due to my last dives. I had some sinus issues before diving but I checked whether or not I would have problems equalizing by doing the Valsalva maneuver before I dove. I was able to equalize. I dove three times that day and though I was able to equalize it did seem harder than normal to do so. I had no post dive problems and it was three weeks later that I first noticed I had drainage from my ear. In going to the doctor I was diagnosed with a fully involved ear infection and that it looked like my eardrum was about to rupture. I suspected that diving might have been the culprit so I did some research. What I found is that in some cases incomplete equalization can allow the reduced pressure in the inner ear to draw bacteria in through the Eustachian tube. The bacteria then can set up shop and whammy an ear infection. I don’t know that this is what happened but the likelihood is great. The right conditions were present – sinus problems, hard equalizations, moist ears from diving and the timing seems about right.
So, I know that in the future I am going to look a lot closer at my health before diving. Things that seem relatively tame and merely annoying can be an entirely different animal at depth. Like I said this is highly subjective and some leaps have been made but why take chances I guess. In any case it has gotten in the way of my diving and getting wet.
Update 10/29/07 -- So as the smoke clears and much, if not all, of the drainage is gone it is now evident that I actually did not have an inner ear infection (Otitis media) but rather an external ear infection (Otitis externa or Swimmer`s Ear). It was rather bad and unknown as to why I was so asymptomatic. However, this is good news as I do not have a perfed ear drum. I will be in the water again soon. As a note, it is uncertain as to how I contracted the infection in the first place but because culturing the little bugger revealed it to be Pseudomonas aeruginosa it is likely that I actually got it from my hot tub and not diving. P. aeruginosa can tolerate high chlorine environments (once established) and is often times found in hot tubs and manifests itself by causing rashes and folliculitis. The doc theorizes that I scratched myself with a Q-tip while cleaning my ears and a dip in the hot tub did the rest.
Lesson learned -- probably not. However, the hot tub has been drained and thhe water replaced. It will be checked more often and I am going to buy a Sahara Dryer for my ears. I may try out the Pro Plugs as well.