Ear - Swimmer's

Is this your symptom?

  • An infection of the ear canal after swimming
  • The ear canal is itchy or painful
  • There may be a change in hearing; hearing is muffled.

Symptoms of Swimmer's Ear

  • Starts with an itchy ear canal
  • Ear canal can become painful
  • Pain gets worse when you press on the tragus. The tragus is the tab of tissue in front of the ear.
  • The ear feels plugged or full
  • Ear discharge may start as the swimmer's ear gets worse
  • Often has no cold symptoms or fever. Fever may develop if the infection gets severe and spreads into the soft tissues of the ear (cellulitis).

Cause of Swimmer's Ear

  • Germs found in pools, hot tubs and other water venues are one of the most common causes of swimmer’s ear.
  • People who swim in lakes are prone to getting swimmer's ear.
  • Water gets trapped in the ear canal. The canal lining becomes wet and swollen.
  • This raises the risk of infection by germs that are in the water (swimmer's ear).
  • Wax buildup also traps water behind it. Most often, this is caused by cotton swabs being used to clean out the ears. They can push wax further toward the ear drum.

When to Call for Ear - Swimmer's

Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

  • Severe ear pain
  • Redness and swelling of outer ear or spreading to the face
  • Fever
  • Have a weak immune system. Examples are: sickle cell disease, HIV, cancer, organ transplant, taking oral steroids, diabetes, kidney problems.
  • You feel very sick
  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Contact Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Yellow discharge or pus from ear canal
  • Blocked ear canal
  • Swollen lymph node near ear (a tender lump just under or behind the ear lobe)
  • You have ear pain symptoms, but are not a swimmer
  • Ear symptoms last more than 7 days on treatment
  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Contact Doctor During Office Hours

  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Swimmer's ear with no other problems

Care Advice

Care Advice for Mild Swimmer's Ear

  1. What You Should Know:
    • Swimmer's ear is often an infection of the ear canal. It is also called otitis externa.
    • You can treat mild swimmer's ear at home.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. White Vinegar Rinses:
    • Rinse the ear canals with half-strength white vinegar. Mix vinegar with equal parts warm water. Exception: do not do this if you have ear tubes or hole in your eardrum.
    • Lie down with the painful ear upward.
    • Fill the ear canal.
    • Wait 5 minutes. Then, turn your head to the side and move the ear. This will remove the vinegar rinse.
    • Do the other side.
    • Repeat twice a day until the ear canal returns to normal.
    • Reason: restores the normal acid pH of the ear canal and lessens swelling.
  3. Pain and Fever Medicine:
    • To help with the pain and/or fever, take an acetaminophen product (such as Tylenol).
    • Another choice is an ibuprofen product (such as Advil). Ibuprofen works well for this type of pain.
    • Use as needed but do not take more than the maximum dosage as listed on the package.
    • If you are not sure what to take, ask a pharmacist.
  4. Heat For Pain:
    • If pain is moderate to severe, use a heating pad (set on low). You can also hold a warm wet washcloth to outer ear.
    • Do this for 20 minutes. Caution: avoid burns. Repeat as needed.
    • This will also increase drainage.
  5. Reduce Swimming Time:
    • Try not to swim until symptoms are gone.
    • Swimming may slow your recovery, but causes no serious harm.
  6. Return to Work and Other Activities.
    • Swimmer's ear cannot be spread to others.
    • If there is a lot of discharge, it may be better to stay off work until the discharge slows or stops.
  7. What to Expect:
    • With treatment, symptoms should be better in 3 days.
    • They should be gone in 7 days.
  8. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Ear pain becomes severe
    • Ear symptoms last more than 7 days with treatment
    • You think you need to be seen
    • Your symptoms get worse

Prevention of Swimmer's Ear

  1. Keep Ear Canals Dry:
    • Try to keep your ear canals dry.
    • After showers, hair washing, or swimming, help the water run out of ears. Do this by turning the head.
    • Do not insert cotton swabs into the ear canal. Reason: packs in the earwax and can damage the ear canal lining. The wax buildup then traps water behind it. This can make infection more likely.
    • If swimmer's ear happens often, rinse the ear canals after swimming. Use a few drops of a white vinegar-rubbing alcohol rinse. Use equal parts of each to make the rinse.
  2. Reduce Water Exposure When Swimming:
    • Wear a bathing cap, ear plugs or custom-made ear molds.
  3. Avoid Swimming in Lakes and Unclean Pools
    • Do not swim where the water may not be clean.
    • Lake swimming has the highest risk.
    • Ask if the pool manager checks disinfectant and pH levels at least twice per day.

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

Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.


Last Reviewed: 10/11/2023 1:00:43 AM
Last Updated: 4/13/2023 1:00:36 AM

Copyright 2023. Schmitt Decision Logic LLC

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