Ear - Swimmer's
- Painful or itchy ear
- Pain gets worse when ear is moved up and down
- Recent swimming or use Q-Tips often
- 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.
- Ear wax 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 ear wax is also bad. A large amount of ear wax 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 your doctor
Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If
- You feel weak or very sick
- Severe pain
- Redness and swelling of outer ear
- Have diabetes
- Have a weak immune system (HIV positive, cancer chemo, long-term steroid use, splenectomy)
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
- You think you need to be seen
- 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
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If
- You have other questions or concerns
Self Care at Home If
- You have questions about swimmer's ear
- Swimmer's ear with no other problems
- 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.
- 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.
- Pain Medicines:
- You can take one of the drugs listed below if you have pain.
- They are over-the-counter (OTC) pain drugs. You can buy them at the drugstore.
- Regular Strength Tylenol: Take 2 pills (650 mg) every 4-6 hours. Each pill has 325 mg of acetaminophen.
- Extra Strength Tylenol: Take 2 pills (1,000 mg) every 8 hours. Each pill has 500 mg of acetaminophen.
- Do not take more than (3,000 mg) of this drug per day.
- Motrin and Advil: Take 2 pills (400 mg) every 6 hours. Each pill has 200 mg of ibuprofen.
- A second choice is to take 3 pills (600 mg) every 8 hours.
- Aleve: Take 1 pill (220 mg) every 8 hours. Each pill has 220 mg of naproxen.
- A second choice is to take 2 pills (440 mg) every 12 hours.
- Use the lowest amount of a drug that makes your pain feel better.
- Your doctor might tell you to take more than what is shown above. That is because your doctor knows you and your health problems.
- Acetaminophen is safer than ibuprofen or naproxen in people over 65 years old. Acetaminophen is in many OTC and prescription drugs. It might be in more than one drug you are taking. Be careful how much you take. Too much of this drug can hurt the liver.
- Caution- Acetaminophen: Do not take it if you have liver disease.
- Caution- Ibuprofen and Naproxen:
- Do not take ibuprofen or naproxen if you are pregnant.
- Do not take these drugs if you have stomach problems or kidney disease.
- Do not take these drugs for more than 7 days without checking with your doctor.
- Read all package instructions.
- 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.
- 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.
- Avoid Swimming: Try to avoid swimming until your ear feels better.
- How It Is Spread: Swimmer's ear is not contagious.
- What to Expect: With treatment, your ear should get better in 3-7 days.
- Call Your Doctor If:
- Ear pain becomes severe
- Ear symptoms last more than 7 days with treatment
- You get worse
- 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.
- Avoid Cotton Swabs:
- Avoid cotton swabs (Q-Tips).
- These remove the earwax that protects the ear canal.
- 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.
Author: David A. Thompson, M.D.
Last reviewed: 9/1/2012
Last revised: 11/14/2012 1:56:18 PM