While you and your kids are enjoying yourselves in the pool, lake, or ocean this summer, remember to beware of a common problem: swimmer’s ear. Don’t let this malady plague your family. Here’s how to beat and treat swimmer’s ear.
What is swimmer’s ear?
Swimmer’s ear, also known as otitis externa, is a condition in which water enters and stays in the ear canal. This is the area or passageway to the eardrum. The lingering water allows bacteria to thrive, which leads to the signs and symptoms of swimmer’s ear, including pain, swelling, itching, redness, hearing difficulties, and infection. Infrequently, swimmer’s ear develops when someone scratches or irritates the ear canal or gets water in the canal after a shower, so “swimmer’s ear” is not always exactly what the name implies.
Treating swimmer’s ear
To treat swimmer’s ear, your doctor may prescribe ear drops that contain an antibiotic. If the ear canal is swollen shut or nearly shut, your physician may insert a tiny sponge called a wick into the ear canal. This wick is left in place and the medication is applied to the ear and absorbed by the wick, which delivers it to the canal. In either case, antibiotic treatment typically is recommended for 10 to 14 days.
Other options for treatment of swimmer’s ear include the following. Ask your doctor about these approaches.
- Oral antibiotics if the infection spreads to the middle ear.
- Pain-relief medication, such as over-the-counter ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
- A combination of equal amounts of white vinegar and rubbing alcohol. Use a dropper to insert a few drops into each ear. This remedy may be used if the eardrum is not affected.
- A combination of equal amounts of white vinegar and water. One teaspoon of this remedy can be placed into each ear and secured with a cotton ball. Vinegar helps fight infection.
- Several drops of warm (not hot) garlic oil placed in the ears can help push out the water and provide antibacterial benefits.
- If pus and moisture are present in the outer ear canal, a combination of calendula tea, goldenseal tea, and witch hazel (equal amounts) applied to the outer ear with a cotton ball may fight infection and reduce the secretions.
- Warm compresses against the ears can help reduce pain.
- Corticosteroids to help reduce inflammation and itching.
In some cases, you may need to extend or repeat treatment. Be sure to consult your healthcare provider if symptoms persist despite your best efforts.
Preventing swimmer’s ear
You and your kids can take steps to prevent swimmer’s ear by following some simple tips:
- Shake it out. If you feel or hear water in your ears after a swim or shower, shake the water out. Tilt your head in the direction of the affected ear and pull gently on the ear lobe.
- Choose safe water. Dirty or contaminated water contains more bacteria, which can increase your chances of getting swimmer’s ear if water becomes trapped in your ear canal.
- Use eardrops. Antiseptic eardrops, available over the counter (e.g., Swim Ear, Aqua Ear), can help prevent swimmer’s ear if used after you get out of the water. The white vinegar and rubbing alcohol combination mentioned above also can be used as a preventive measure.
- Use ear plugs. There are many different types of ear plugs for swimmers, along with pros and cons for each type. Among the cons are the fact that they are easy to lose and children often need help to insert them. However, you may want to review the different types of ear plugs as an option.
- Wear a swim cap. This is probably not the most attractive option, nor will you likely get your kids to wear a swim cap. However, it can be helpful.
- Don’t poke. If your child develops a mild case of swimmer’s ear, remind him not to poke or scratch inside his ear. These actions can promote an infection and make the swimmer’s ear worse.
Swimmer’s ear doesn’t have to ruin your summer water fun. Take preventive steps and know what to do if you or your kids should develop swimmer’s ear. And have a safe and fun-filled summer!