Otitis externa: Get rid of swimmer's ear

Kid SwimmingMany swimmers are familiar with earaches that sometimes accompany their water workouts. However, the term "swimmer's ear" may be an inaccurate way to describe this condition.

Facts about swimmer's ear

  • Otitis externa is the clinical term for swimmer's ear.
  • Swimmer's ear is found more often in people who aren't swimmers.
  • Anyone who is outside in the wind and rain can get swimmer's ear.
  • Farmers can experience the problem often being exposed to the elements for a long time.

Identifying swimmer's ear

Swimmer's ear is the inflammation of the canal joining the eardrum to the external ear. Moisture – water and different kinds of bacteria – get trapped in the ear canal. The ear canal gets red and sore and swells up from the irritation.

Pain is often the first sign of otitis externa. When someone feels their ear is plugged and painful, they may see their physician. Pain is usually experienced while chewing or by tugging on the earlobes.

Treatment and prevention

Swimmer's ear is usually treated with antibiotics, either in the form of pills or ear drops.

A homemade cure can be mixed from a solution of half rubbing alcohol and half vinegar. The alcohol combines with water in the ear and then evaporates, removing the water, while the acidity of the vinegar keeps bacteria from growing. Apply a couple of drops of solution in each ear. This home remedy is recommended for those with repeat infections.

Those with repeat infections may also want to try blow-drying their ears to make sure all the moisture is out. The may also want to use the homemade remedy of alcohol and vinegar after daily showers.

The best way to avoid otitis externa is to keep ears clean and dry. If the problem is persistent, wearing properly fitting earplugs while in the water is also a possible treatment. Adults should make sure to watch out for swimmer's ear in children, as they may not be able to recognize the symptoms.

University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics
Daniel Fick, MD
Professor of Family Medicine

Last reviewed: 
June 2017

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