Ear - Swimmer's

Is this your symptom?

  • Painful or itchy ear
  • Pain gets worse when ear is moved up and down
  • Recent swimming or use Q-Tips often

Some Basics...

  • Swimmer's ear is an infection of the skin that lines the ear canal. It is also called otitis externa.
  • Ear canals were meant to be dry. When water repeatedly gets trapped in the ear canal, the lining gets wet and swollen. This can happen from swimming. If ear canals get wet frequently, it increases the chance of getting swimmer's ear.
  • Earwax is made by the ear canal as a natural water-proofing agent. Frequent use of cotton swabs takes away the wax. This increases the chance of swimmer's ear.
  • Of course, too much earwax is also bad. A large amount of earwax can stop water from draining out of the ear. This can lead to wetness, ear canal skin softening, and then to swimmer's ear.

Treatment of Otitis Externa (Swimmer's Ear)

  • Antibiotic Ear Drops: Swimmer's ear is usually treated with antibiotic drops.
  • Oral Antibiotics: These may be needed for more severe cases of swimmer's ear.
  • Home Remedy - White Vinegar Rinses: This can be used to treat mild cases of swimmer's ear. Household white vinegar has acetic acid in it. Acetic acid brings the acid pH of the ear canal to normal. Make a mixture of half white vinegar and half water. Use this mixture to rinse the ear canals 2 times a day. You can also get acetic acid by prescription (Acetic Acid Otic, Vosol).
  • Pain Medications: These may also help.

When to Call for Ear - Swimmer's

Call Doctor Now or Go to ER

  • Severe pain
  • Fever
  • Redness and swelling of outer ear
  • Have diabetes
  • Have a weak immune system (HIV, cancer chemo, long-term steroid use, splenectomy)
  • You feel weak or very sick
  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • You are not sure that your ear pain is caused by swimmer's ear
  • Yellow discharge from ear canal
  • Blocked ear canal or decreased hearing
  • Swollen lymph node near ear
  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Swimmer's ear with no other problems

Care Advice

Treatment of Swimmer's Ear

  1. What You Should Know:
    • Swimmer's ear is an infection of the skin that lines the ear canal. It is also called otitis externa.
    • You can treat swimmer's ear at home.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. White Vinegar Rinses: Vinegar (acetic acid) brings the acid pH of the ear canal to normal. This helps swimmer's ear to get better. Make a mixture of half white vinegar and half water. Use this to rinse the ear canals twice daily. Here are some instructions on how to do this:
    • Lie down with the painful ear upward. Fill the ear canal with the mixture.
    • After 5 minutes, let the fluid drain out. You can help it drain out by tilting your head to one side and gently pulling on your ear.
    • Do this 2 times a day until your ear feels normal.
    • Caution: Do not do this if you have ear tubes or a hole in your eardrum.
  3. Pain Medicine:
    • You can take one of the following drugs if you have pain: acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve).
    • They are over-the-counter (OTC) pain drugs. You can buy them at the drugstore.
    • Use the lowest amount of a drug that makes your pain feel better.
    • Acetaminophen is safer than ibuprofen or naproxen in people over 65 years old.
    • Read the instructions and warnings on the package insert for all medicines you take.
  4. Heat Pack: If you have bad pain, apply heat to the sore area. Use a heat pack, heating pad, or warm wet washcloth. Do this for 20 minutes, then as needed. This will help the water to drain from your ear.
  5. Avoid Earplugs: If pus or cloudy fluid is draining from the ear canal, wipe it away. Pus can irritate the ear canal and keep it from getting better. For this reason, do not block the ear canal with cotton or ear plugs.
  6. Avoid Swimming: Try to avoid swimming until your ear feels better.
  7. How It Is Spread: Swimmer's ear is not contagious.
  8. What to Expect: With treatment, your ear should get better in 3-7 days.
  9. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Ear pain becomes severe
    • Ear symptoms last more than 7 days with treatment
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

Prevention of Swimmer's Ear

  1. Keep Ear Canals Dry:
    • Try to keep your ear canals dry.
    • After showers and swimming, help the water run out of your ears. Do this by tilting your head to one side so the ear can drain.
    • Another way to dry out your ear is with a hair dryer. Set the hair dryer on the lowest setting. Hold it an arm's length away and point it towards your ear. Do not burn yourself.
  2. Avoid Cotton Swabs:
    • Avoid cotton swabs (Q-Tips).
    • These remove the earwax that protects the ear canal.
  3. Rinse Ear Canal with Vinegar After Swimming:
    • After swimming, put a few drops of a mixture of half white vinegar and half water in your ear.
    • After 5 minutes, remove the fluid. Do this by tilting your head to one side and gently pulling on the ear.
    • Vinegar (acetic acid) brings the acid pH of the ear canal to normal. A normal pH helps prevent swimmer's ear.
    • You may want to try this if you get swimmer's ear often.
    • Caution: Do not do this if you have ear tubes or hole in eardrum.

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.


Last Reviewed: 12/15/2017 1:32:53 AM
Last Updated: 5/7/2017 1:36:02 PM

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