Treating Swimmer’s Ear

July 2018

Swimmer’s ear is a painful condition of the outer ear resulting from inflammation, irritation or infection. Symptoms often occur after water gets trapped in the ear, with subsequent spread of bacteria or fungal organisms, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology. The infection can begin with increased moisture trapped in the ear canal from baths, showers, swimming or moist environments. The most common symptoms of swimmer’s ear are itching inside the ear and pain that gets worse when you tug on the outer ear. Other symptoms may include:

  • Sensation that the ear is blocked or full
  • Drainage
  • Fever
  • Decreased hearing
  • Intense pain that may spread to the neck, face or side of the head
  • Swollen lymph nodes around the ear or in the upper neck.Redness and swelling of the skin around the ear

Treatment includes careful cleaning of the ear canal and use of eardrops that inhibit bacterial or fungal growth and reduce inflammation. Mildly acidic solutions containing boric or acetic acid are effective for early infections.

  • Drops are more easily administered if done by someone other than the patient.
  • The patient should lie down with the affected ear facing upwards.
  • Drops should be placed in the ear as prescribed.
  • After drops are administered, the patient should remain lying down for a few minutes so the drops can be absorbed.

To help prevent swimmer’s ear, try to keep the ears free of moisture during swimming or bathing. Use ear plugs when swimming. Use a dry towel or hair dryer (on cool or warm, not hot) to dry the ears. Have your child’s ears cleaned periodically by an otolaryngologist if she has itchy, flaky or scaly ears, or extensive ear wax. Don’t use cotton swabs to remove ear wax. They may pack wax and dirt deeper into the ear canal, remove the layer of ear wax that protects the ear and irritate the thin skin of the ear canal. This creates an ideal environment for infection.

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