Swimmer’s Ear

If you like to swim, or have frequent water contact, you are at risk for a painful infection known as swimmer’s ear. This occurs when water enters the ear canal, causing inflammation, redness, and serious side effects if left untreated.

What Are the Signs of Swimmer’s Ear?

Infections in the skin of the ear canal cause symptoms such as pain, tenderness to the touch, itchiness, fullness in the ear, drainage, and temporary hearing loss. Antibiotic drops alone will frequently clear the infections. When infection is more severe, oral antibiotics, cleaning the ear, or placement of a wick in the ear canal to help the antibiotic drops reach the infection may be required. Evaluation of the ears to appropriately diagnose the problem and start appropriate treatment is important.

Swimmer’s ear isn’t only caused by water. Anything that damages the protective film covering the ear canal can lead to infection.

Other sources of infection include sand, dirt, soap, shampoo, and any object inserted into the ear canal too deeply (e.g., cotton swabs, safety pins, and fingernails). Skin problems such as eczema or psoriasis, and bony growths known as exostoses, may also contribute to swimmer’s ear. Even sweating can exacerbate the condition.

How is Swimmer’s Ear Treated?

Home treatment is often effective against swimmer’s ear. Rinsing the ears with a warm saline solution or a mixture of vinegar and warm water can help remove debris and promote drying. A warm compress can be used for pain, along with over-the-counter drugs. Bacterial infections must be treated with antibiotics.

Some people are more prone to swimmer’s ear than others. Individuals with narrow ear canals or impacted earwax are more likely to develop an infection. To reduce your risk, try eardrops made with a vinegar and water mixture before and after swimming. Use swimmer’s earplugs, which are specifically designed to prevent water from entering the ear canals; when bathing, wear a shower cap. Be sure to dry your ears thoroughly after exposure to water.