What is Swimmer’s Ear and How Do I Prevent (and Treat) It?

It’s summertime, which means kids are going to be spending a lot of time in the water cooling off from the heat: diving in, swimming underwater and splashing around. The bad news: all that time in the water makes swimmer’s ear a risk among children. The good news: it’s pretty easy to prevent.

Swimmer's Ear TreatmentWhat is Swimmer’s Ear?

Swimmer’s ear got its name because it’s often associated with the water and moisture that gets trapped in the ear after swimming, which can lead to an infection of the ear canal (otitis externa). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), swimmer’s ear is to blame for about 2.4 million health-care visits each year. The most common culprit is water from a lake, followed by ocean, bath and then pool water. But, you can reduce your chances of getting swimmer’s ear with a few preventative measures.

Is swimmer’s ear the same as the common middle ear infection?

No. Other types of ear infections cause pain inside the ear, but swimmer’s ear causes pain when the outside of the ear is touched. Look for these common symptoms.

Swimmer’s Ear Prevention

Since moisture creates the “perfect environment” for bacteria to grow, the best thing to do to prevent swimmer’s ear is to keep your ears as dry as possible. After you’re done swimming or showering, use a small towel to gently dry the inside of your ears and tilt your head to allow water to naturally escape each side. Also use a swim cap or ear plugs to prevent water from entering the ear canal when you’re in the water.

What not to do?

Never use a cotton swab to clean or dry the ear canal because it can be damaging to the ear drum.

Avoid scratching your ear canal; little breaks in the skin from fingernails can invite a serious infection to spread quickly.

Don’t try to remove ear wax. Your ear wax is there to help protect your ear canal from infection; remove it and you risk infection.

Swimmer’s Ear Symptoms

The symptoms typically start off mild (manifesting a few days after the ear is contaminated) but they can intensify quickly if the infection is left untreated. Look for the tell-tale signs of pain, itching, swelling, redness, discomfort, drainage, and a loss of hearing. Hearing will be muffled, and the ear may feel “full.” Look for redness and inflammation that can spread to the outer ear and the lymph nodes in the neck.

It is not contagious and is generally confined to one ear.

See The American Academy of Pediatrics for more information about swimmer’s ear.

Listen Up: Swimmer’s Ear Requires Medical Attention

If the infection advances without treatment, symptoms may progress to severe pain and swelling and fever. If you or your child has developed swimmer’s ear, it’s important to seek medical attention for the proper treatment and prescriptions. Generally, the pain and swelling will dissipate as the antibiotics take effect, clearing up in about a week.

Learn more about our services and how we can treat you and your family by calling our location in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey (908) 464-6700, or Middletown, New Jersey (732) 957-0707. We welcome you to walk in, get your exam and be on your way.


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