Swimmer’s ear, tennis elbow, athlete’s foot—all these conditions make sports and exercise sound pretty dangerous. However, swimmer’s ear is common among anyone who enjoys playing in the water. But what is swimmer’s ear, and how do you treat it?
Swimmer’s Ear: the basics
According to the Mayo Clinic, swimmer’s ear is an infection of the outer ear canal — the canal that runs from your eardrum to the outside of your ear. When you stick your finger in your ear, that’s the outer ear canal.
Water that remains in the ear after swimming can cause swimmer’s ear, as the stagnant water creates a wet environment that promotes bacterial growth. There are certain bacteria that live in water and soil that can quickly cause infection in a human.
Sticking objects inside the ear can also cause swimmer’s ear (even without water!) because it damages the thin layer of skin, leading to infection.
Do I have Swimmer’s Ear?
The symptoms of swimmer’s ear normally start out mild but can worsen if left untreated. Mild symptoms of swimmer’s ear are:
- Itching in the ear canal
- Redness in the ear
- Slight pain when the ear is touched
- Drainage of clear fluid
If you’re experiencing the symptoms above, it’s a good idea to call a doctor. Especially if you’ve been swimming recently, you might be suffering from swimmer’s ear. If swimmer’s ear is untreated and progresses to a more advanced stage, you may experience symptoms such as:
- Increased pain
- Excessive fluid draining
- Pus discharge
- Blockage of the ear canal
- Decreased/muffled hearing
- Head, face, or neck pain
- Lymph node swelling
Treating Swimmer’s Ear
Once you’ve determined that you’ve got swimmer’s ear, it’s time to get relief fast. For the majority of causes, eardrops from your doctor should be enough to clear up the issue. The eardrops reduce inflammation and fight bacteria via a combination of steroids, antibiotics, and an acidic solution.
If a doctor is not available and your symptoms are mild, there are also home remedies you can try. You can use a blow dryer to gently dry your ears.
There’s also a homemade mixture that might solve the problem: Mix 1 part white vinegar to 1 part rubbing alcohol and pour 1 teaspoon in your ear. Let that sit for a few seconds and then turn over to drain the solution out.
The vinegar and alcohol work to dry the ear out and kill bacteria that are causing inflammation and pain.
If you find you or your child is especially susceptible to swimmer’s ear, it’s a good idea to swim with waterproof earplugs. There are many different types of swimming earplugs and professional swimmers use them often to avoid swimmer’s ear!
Don’t let the fear of swimmer’s ear stop you from having fun in the water this summer. Take precautions and remember to drain out your ears after every swimming session to prevent infection. Enjoy the water!