Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Mack's EarDryer Warm Air Ear Dryer

Mack's EarDryerI just returned from Maui, where I participated as a teacher at the Stanford Symposium on Emergency Medicine 2007. At the end of my presentation on wilderness medicine, I was approached by a doctor who showed me a medical device—the Mack's EarDryer (formerly know as the Sahara™ DryEar). This small, portable device, which is on the market, was designed by an otolaryngologist (“ear, nose, and throat [ENT]” physician), Dr. Hamilton P. Collins, to prevent and treat ear disorders by drying the ear canal. The airflow from this sophisticated device runs for 80 seconds at a comfortable temperature and dries the outer ear canal. The device has a customized computer chip that directs a heater and fan to regulate the flow of warm air into the ear canal.

Divers and swimmers often trap water in the external ear canal, which can lead to inflammation and infection of the skin that lines the canal. This is known in medical terminology as otitis externa, commonly known as “swimmer’s ear.” A case of swimmer’s ear can easily ruin a vacation or dive trip, and can progress to a much more serious infection. The key to prevention is drying the external ear canal, which is often done by either instilling a few drops of rubbing alcohol, and/or by acidifying the canal, commonly done with a drop or two of household vinegar. The latter maneuver inhibits the growth of bacteria that cause the infectious component of otitis externa. The beauty of the EarDryer device is that it safely evaporates water that has accumulated in the external ear canal, obviating the need for any further maneuver.

Each EarDryer comes with five interchangeable, color-coded earpieces: blue, green, purple, pink and yellow. The different colors are designed so that different persons can have his or her own earpiece. The earpieces are designed to exhaust the airflow from the ear canal along with the evaporating moisture. In most cases, all the moisture trapped in the ear will evaporate in an 80 second application. If the user feels that water is still trapped in the canal, the cycle may be repeated.

The EarDryer is equipped with a rechargeable lithium ion battery similar to those found in cell phones. The EarDryer can run 50 times before requiring a recharge. The device is not waterproof, so one must take care when carrying it near the water, and it should be stored in a safe, dry location.

The manufacturer states that the device can be used if the eardrum is perforated. This seems reasonable, as when the device is turned on, the gentle stream of air is barely perceptible. Furthermore, the warm air seems to be of a temperature that should not induce dizziness from being too hot or cold.

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.