Stop Swimmer's Ear

Tips for staying in the swim this summer and how to avoid and treat swimmer's ear.

For Your Health

Stop Swimmer’s Ear

Tips for staying in the swim this summer

-Susan Crandell

A Doctor examining an earNothing can sideline a week at the lake more quickly than a painful case of swimmer’s ear. To safeguard your vacation this summer, be sure that you and your kids (the condition is more common in children and young adults) follow these rules to ward off trouble and get better fast if you do fall victim to swimmer’s ear.

What Is Swimmer’s Ear?

Otitis externa is a infection of the ear canal, often caused by bacteria (Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a typical one), though fungus can also be the culprit. It’s particularly prevalent in summer when high temperatures and high humidity promote bacterial growth.

The infection can inflame the lining of the ear canal as well as the glands that produce ear wax, causing sharp pain and itching and even hearing loss.

How Do You Get It?

The condition usually develops within a few days of getting contaminated water in your ear. The source can be anything from a pool to a lake to a hot tub.

What’s The Treatment?

Before prescribing medication, your doctor will clear your ear of wax, discharge, flakes of skin or anything else that stands in the way of delivering the drug to the affected ear canal lining. Medications, which may be used in combination, include antibiotics to fight a bacterial infection, anti-fungals, steroids to reduce inflammation and solutions to restore the proper pH environment of your ear. Most times, ear drops are used, though when infections are recurrent or resistant, oral antibiotics may be prescribed.

What Can I Do To Prevent Swimmer’s Ear?

The basic rule is to keep your ears dry. After swimming, dry your ears thoroughly with a towel and yes, go ahead and bounce up and down on one leg with your head cocked to the side if that helps release any trapped water. You can use your hair dryer (lowest setting, at least a foot from your ear) to finish up the job.

If you’re prone to infections, the Mayo Clinic recommends using homemade ear drops before and after you swim. Pour a teaspoon of a solution that’s half rubbing alcohol, half white vinegar into your ear and let it drain out. This solution is a preventive measure only; do not use it if you suspect you have an infection. Alternatively, there are commercial drops like Auro-Dri and Swim-Ear to do the job.
Make sure any pool where you swim is tested often to maintain proper pH and chlorine levels.

Finally, don’t try to remove wax from your ear (we all know we’re not supposed to put cotton swabs in our ears, but it’s so tempting…). There’s evidence that a layer of wax may protect against swimmer’s ear infections.

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