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Kelsey-Seybold Clinic – Your Health Resources

Splish-Splash: Swimmer's Ear Can Be Prevented

August 27, 2019

When the hot Texas sun is blaring down, a dip in the pool is the ideal way to cool off. But without the proper precautions, you may end up with a bad case of “swimmer’s ear.”

Otitis externa, better known as swimmer’s ear, is the inflammation, irritation, or infection of the outer ear and ear canal. Swimmer’s ear can happen to anyone, but it’s fairly common among teens and young adults.

Causes of swimmer’s ear include swimming in polluted water, scratching the inner or outer part of the ear, or having an object stuck in the ear. Look for symptoms such as yellow, pus-like drainage, pain, or itching of the ear canal.

Moisture in the ear makes it more susceptible to swimmer’s ear because of the risk of infection. Cleaning wax from the ear canal, especially with cotton swabs or small objects, can irritate or damage the skin.

“Avoid swimming in polluted water, keep your ears clean and dry, and don’t let water get in your ears when you’re bathing,” says Etan Weinstock, MD, a board-certified ENT specialist. “Also, if you can, use earplugs when swimming.”

The good news is that swimmer’s ear responds well to treatment. An ENT specialist may prescribe antibiotic ear drops or corticosteroids to reduce itching and inflammation. If the pain is severe, analgesics or warming devices, such as heating pads, may be used for relief.

“People with underlying medical problems, such as diabetes, may be more likely to experience complications and should see a certified ENT doctor,” says Dr. Weinstock.

Tips on Preventing Swimmer’s Ear

  • Do not scratch the ears or insert cotton swabs or other objects in the ears.
  • Keep ears clean and dry, and do not let water enter the ears when showering, shampooing, or bathing.
  • Dry the ear thoroughly after exposure to moisture.
  • Avoid swimming in polluted water.
  • Use earplugs when swimming.
  • Consider mixing 1 drop of alcohol with 1 drop of white vinegar and placing the mixture into the ears after they get wet. The alcohol and acid in the vinegar help prevent bacterial growth.
Headshot of Etan Weinstock, MD

About the Author

Dr. Etan Weinstock is Chief of the Ear, Nose and Throat Department at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. "I’m a strong advocate for individualized patient care. No one person completely fits the ‘textbook’ and no one particular standardized management usually fits the patient."

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