Swimmer’s ear or ear infection

Swimmer’s ear (Otitis externa) – an infection of outer ear canal – is a very common problem and if you don’t take care of it quickly it can become extremely painful. Swimmer’s ear happens when water gets into the ear canal and stays there, creating a moist environment in which bacteria, the cause of the infection, grow and infect the skin.

Swimmer’s ear occurs usually after swimming, hence the name. Germs found in pools and at other recreational water locations are one of the most common causes of swimmer’s ear. However, you can get it even after a bath or a shower if there are some cuts or abrasions in the lining of your ear canal. The first symptom of infection is that the ear feels full, and it may itch. Sometimes, people with swimmer's ear experience temporary hearing loss in the affected ear. Treatments for swimmer's ear include a gentle cleaning but often extend to antibiotic ear drops to deal with the infection. Patients who leave the infection untreated develop intense levels of pain. If you have a true swimmers ear with swelling and pain and hearing problems and chewing problems, see a doctor, if left untreated your ear could swell completely shut and your ear drum could burst.

People with diabetes or weak immune systems can develop a more dangerous form of the illness that can require hospitalization. In this case the condition is called malignant otitis externa, and not swimmer's ear.

Swimmer’s ear isn’t contagious.

So what to do when you feel water in your ear? Home remedies for swimmer’s ear infection include:

  1. Keep the ears dry.
  2. Avoid scratching the inside of the ear or using cotton swabs. This will only aggravate the irritated skin, and in most situations will make the condition worse.
  3. If you wear a hearing aid, it should be left out as much as possible until swelling and discharge stops.
  4. If you already feel pain in the ear area, apply a heating pad. You can also try a hot water bottle, a rice heating pack, and a warm, wet wash cloth.
  5. Use an eye dropper to insert several drops of witch hazel into each ear to dry up pus, clear away excess oil, and break up wax and debris that may be clogging the ear canal. Follow up with a natural anti-microbial like basil oil, apple cider vinegar, or tea tree oil.
  6. Use an eye dropper to insert 2-3 drops of Hydrogen peroxide 3 times a day (leave in ear till stops crackling) Hydrogen peroxide has long been used as a way to soothe ear pain, treat ear infections and more. Caution! If you have severe ear pain or a discharge of fluid from your ear, don't use hydrogen peroxide - consult a doctor instead.
  7. Make swimmer’s ear drops. This home remedy combines antiseptic garlic and anti-inflammatory mullein. Put 2-3 ounces of mullein and several crushed garlic cloves in a double boiler. Cover the herbs in olive oil completely. Bring the mixture to a low simmer and slowly heat for an hour, checking frequently to make sure it doesn’t overheat. Strain the herbs out of the oil. You can put it in a sterilized bottle and store out of light. To use, put 1-3 drops in the ear with a sterile dropper at least three times a day.

Another mixture for swimmer’s ear could be made out of 1/4 cup white vinegar, 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol and any natural antiseptics – 2-3 drops grapefruit seed extract, 3-5 drops Echinacea tincture, 3 drops garlic extract. In this case put all ingredients in a sterilized bottle and use as needed.

Remember, if you experience significant pain, fluid flowing from the ear or any problems with your hearing, don't use these home remedies. That means you need to speak with a doctor about what the problem might be and how you can solve it. How to prevent swimmer’s ear?

  1. Keep your ears dry. Use a bathing cap or ear plugs when swimming.
  2. Dry your ears thoroughly after swimming or bathing. If you still have water left in your ears, consider using a hair dryer to move air within the ear canal. Put the dryer on the lowest heat and speed/fan setting. Hold the dryer several inches from your ear.
  3. Don’t put foreign objects in your ear canal. Avoid scratching an itch or digging our earwax with items such as cotton swabs, pencils, paperclips, hairpins, or fingers. Using these items can pack material deeper into your ear canal, irritate the thin skin inside your ear or break the skin.
  4. Don’t remove earwax from your ear. Ear wax helps protect your ear canal from infection.
  5. If you know you don't have a punctured eardrum, you can use homemade preventive eardrops after swimming. Mix 1 ounce of white vinegar and 1 ounce of rubbing alcohol in a small sterilized bottle. After swimming or bathing, dry the ears well and add a few drops to each canal. The mixture will help with drying and inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi that cause swimmer's ear.
  6. Protect your ears from irritants. Put cotton balls in your ears while applying products such as hair sprays and hair dyes.
  7. Avoid swimming in places with polluted water.
  8. Avoid washing hair or swimming if very mild symptoms of acute external otitis begin.
If you have any other recommendations of how to get water out of your ears or a home remedy for swimmer’s ear, leave us a note in the comments below.


"Swimmer's Ear" (Otitis Externa). (March 2015). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/rwi/illnesses/swimmers ear.html Estimated Burden of Acute Otitis Externa - United States, 2003—2007. (May 20, 2011). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6019a2.htm?s_cid=mm6019a2_w
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