How To Treat & Prevent Swimmer’s Ear

prevent swimmers ear

Prevent swimmers ear this season by following these short tips on how to treat & prevent swimmers ear.

July 15, 2017 by Dr. Fred Lindsay, MD

How to Treat & Prevent Swimmer's Ear

Whether you swim professionally or for recreation, you're at risk of getting swimmers ear. Discover how to treat and prevent swimmers ear in our post.

Summertime means being outside -- going to the beach, swimming in the pool or visiting a natural spring. These are all great ways to cool down during those hot summer days.

But lurking behind the fun is an unpleasant experience: swimmer's ear.

Anyone that has experienced severe bouts of swimmer's ear is quick to tell you the discomfort and pain. It's not fun. It's one that could throw you off for many days after it's settled in.

This one goes out to all those that want to prevent swimmer's ear.

In this article, you will learn how to prevent this unpleasant experience, what you can do to treat it, and whether it's a good idea to seek medical help if swimmer's ear is becoming too much.

Let's dive right in...

How to Prevent Swimmer's Ear

First, let's address what swimmer's ear actually is.

An infection starts when water remains in the outer ear canal. This could happen during any type of activity involving water but it generally happens during (you guessed it) swimming. Any sources of water, soil, and excessive cleaning could cause this problem, too, like sweating, humid weather, scratches in the canal, or allergies.

The easiest way to prevent swimmer's ear is to avoid water. Yet, that's not possible (rain, anyone?) and would stop a lot of fun like swimming at a birthday party, having a water balloon fight or going to a water park.

What can we do about it?

Check out the best ways to prevent it:
  • Staying Dry - Dry off after swimming or take a bath/shower. Tilt the head to the side and allow any excess water to drain out. Pat dry the outer ear with a soft towel.
  • Pre-Drops - The drops (see below) are used before swimming. This is a 50/50 mixture of rubbing alcohol and vinegar. It will prevent bacteria and fungi from starting the infection. Otherwise, over-the-counter drops work just as good.
  • Know the Area - Check the local water reports for the bacteria levels. If the levels are high then it may be best to avoid going swimming at the lakes or springs. Likewise, make sure to regularly clean the pool or check with maintenance about the cleanliness of the community pool.
  • Don't Dig - Stop placing ear swabs deep in the ear (even though it feels amazing). Don't scratch the outer and inner canal with your nails. Digging around will remove the wax which prevents bacteria growth.
  • Avoid/Prevent Irritants - Cover the ears if you're using hairsprays or coming into contact with other foreign particles (like dust). Earplugs and hearing aids can cause an irritation too.

The main way to prevent swimmer's ear is to take care of your ears. Make a routine of draining your ears after swimming, use drops before and after, and stop picking at the insides of your ears.

Pretty simple, right?

But sometimes, even after doing everything right, swimmer's ear still sets in! So, now what?

How to Treat Swimmer's Ear

Swimmer's ear begins with mild symptoms like itchiness and minor discomfort. The infection will then bring on pain, may discharge pus, and/or create temporary deafness. The infection could then advance to severe blockage, excruciating pain, and fever.

Treating swimmer's ear is rather simple and inexpensive (depending on the severity). If it's extremely painful, right now, then stop reading and go seek medical attention (see below). Otherwise, let's look at the two ways of dealing with this nasty bout of infection.

At-Home/DIY Methods

Pro Tip

Cheap solutions to care for swimmer's ear can be found throughout your home:

  • Rubbing alcohol + Vinegar - Mix a 50/50 solution of rubbing alcohol and vinegar. Add these two to a used eye dropper. Lie down on your side with the infected ear facing up. Squirt 2-4 drops in the ear and then drain.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide - Repeat the same process (as above) but with apple cider vinegar instead. Use a few drops after swimming to help prevent swimmer's ear or when you begin to feel discomfort.

The acidity of the vinegar will help stop bacteria from growing. The rubbing alcohol help to evaporate the water so bacteria doesn't have a place to start.

Note: The solution won't work if the ear is blocked by excess wax. See a medical professional and have them clean your ears. Then begin a routine of using ear drops that are prescribed or made at home.

A blow dryer may also work as treatment since it'll help dry out the ear canal. Use a gentle setting with the cool function (not too close) for a few minutes to clear water out of your ear.

Over-the-Counter Solutions

If the DIY solutions aren't within reach (and a trip to the store is necessary for the purchase anyway) then an over-the-counter solution is a quick and easy way to treat swimmer's ear.

Ear drops are available at most local drug stores including:

  • CVS
  • Walgreens
  • Walmart pharmacy
  • Rite Aid
treating swimmers ear

Take precautions before you swim to prevent swimmer's ear.

These ear drops are mainly rubbing alcohol mixed with a smart part of glycerin. They'll run you a few bucks and there's no need to buy an extra dropper which makes it an easy choice. Keep them in the car or in a swim bag so you never forget to use them after water activities.

That should take care of swimmer's ear on most occasions, but...

These Methods Aren't Working? Seek Medical Attention

Swimmer's ear can go from bad to worse. If the infection continues and DIY and over-the-counter solutions aren't working then it's time to see a medical professional.

If you let the infection to continue then it will lead to severe pain and fever which could be dangerous for the young and elderly. Chronic swimmer's ear is another problem which pops up due to skin conditions, irritation, and weak immune systems. Treatment and prognosis are the same though it'll keep coming back.

The doctor will use a suction device to clean the ear canal and remove any built-up wax, fluids, and debris. Medications prescribed may include:

  • A solution to promote antibacterial wax build up
  • Steroids to reduce the inflammation
  • An antibiotic for the infection
  • Ear drops
  • Pain relievers

There's a chance swimmer's ear could also be a fungal infection. At that point, an anti-fungal medication is prescribed. This shouldn't take long to knock it out.

Listen to your doctor and follow the recommended treatment plan. It may be unpleasant but at least you'll be equipped with the drops and other necessities to help prevent swimmer's ear in the future. Especially if the condition becomes a regular occurrence when you're out playing in the water.

Ever had swimmer's ear? What solutions worked for you? Share your advice in a comment below!

With locations in Hampton, Williamsburg, Gloucester and Newport News, VA, we're conveniently located and ready to help you treat and prevent swimmer's ear this season.

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About The Author
Dr. Fred W. Lindsay DO

Dr. Fred Lindsay, DO

Dr. Fred Lindsay, DO is an otolaryngologist with Hampton Roads ENT - Allergy in Newport News, VA.  

While not working he enjoys sending time with his wife and 4 children.  His many hobbies include running, swimming, cycling, skiing, and motorcycle riding.