What Is It and How Can You Prevent It?
Swimmer’s ear is an inflamed outer ear canal, and you needn’t be a swimmer to suffer from it. It is most often caused by excess moisture in the ear from swimming, but can be caused by frequent showering or shampooing as well. The excess moisture becomes trapped inside the ear canal and can cause cracking or flaking of the skin, providing the perfect atmosphere for the growth of bacteria or fungi. Certain skin conditions, such as psoriasis and dermatitis, can make a person more susceptible to developing swimmer’s ear.
Swimmer’s ear nearly always clears up on its own, but sometimes requires treatment. The most important treatment of swimmer’s ear is to keep the infected ear dry, either by wearing earplugs to prevent water from entering the ear or by avoiding water completely until the infection clears up. Over-the-counter antiseptic eardrops can help, or you can make your own by mixing equal parts rubbing alcohol and white vinegar. After warming the drops, leave them in the infected ear for several minutes and then allow them to drain back out by tilting your head to the side. Warm compresses and over-the-counter pain relievers are generally all that is needed for controlling the discomfort associated with swimmer’s ear.
If symptoms of swimmer’s ear persist after more than three or four days of self-care, you should make an appointment with your doctor. Rarely, the infection in the outer ear canal can spread deeper inside the ear and require antibiotics. You should also call your doctor if you have frequent episodes of swimmer’s ear even after following the prevention tips below.
1. Coat the insides of your ears with baby oil or lanolin eardrops before swimming to protect them from the water. Be certain to tilt your head to the side to allow the drops to reach the bottom of the ear canal, then let the extra oil drain out.
2. Avoid swimming in dirty or polluted water. The risk of developing swimmer’s ear is higher after swimming in fresh water, such as lakes or streams.
3. Try to keep your ears as dry as possible by wearing earplugs while swimming, or by using a shower cap during showering. Remove the earplugs as soon as you get out the water so that any traces of water that did get into your ear canals can drain out and dry.
4. Dry the outside of your ears immediately after swimming and showering, and use drops of rubbing alcohol to help evaporate any water than remains inside the canal.
5. Use antiseptic eardrops any time your ears get wet if you have a history of swimmer’s ear or if you have recently had an ear infection.
6. Be very careful when cleaning wax out of your ears. Do not use any object that might cause a scratch or cut inside of the ear canal. Better yet, schedule regular appointments with your doctor for safe and professional wax removal.
Written by Sandra Ketcham