Getting water stuck in your ears after swimming is a big nuisance but can also be dangerous at times. While most people generally tend to ignore a little bit of water sloshing around in the ears, it is advisable that you try to get it out. Did you know that your lifestyle can give you swimmer’s ear? Let us understand more about swimmer’s ear, its causes, symptoms, treatment and complications.

What is Swimmer’s Ear?

Swimmer's ear is an infection of the outer ear, more specifically the outer ear canal, which is caused by water getting into an unprotected ear canal. Other factors can also give rise to a swimmer's ear. Swimmer's ear can also arise from a shower or bath, or even a hot tub. Hence, it is related to your routine and it is important to know that your lifestyle can give you swimmer’s ear. Basically, any situation where there is a potential for water to get trapped in your ear can lead to swimmer's ear. As this condition generally affects swimmers, it is known as swimmer's ear.

Swimmer's ear is a common phenomenon and if not treated in time, it can lead to worsening of the infection. Swimmer's ear is also known as acute otitis externa. The condition commonly occurs in children and teenagers, but it can also affect people who suffer from eczema or have excess earwax. It is important to understand the causes of this condition and how your lifestyle can give your swimmer’s ear?

Can Your Lifestyle Give You Swimmer's Ear?

Increased moisture trapped inside the ear canal is one of the commonest causes of swimmer's ear. A thin layer of ear wax usually coats our ear canal. Water does not mix with the ear wax and this is the reason why generally water just runs in and out of the ear canal without creating any problem. However, regular exposure to water causes moisture to become trapped in the ear canal, thus giving rise to bacteria. Water can get trapped either from showers, baths, swimming, or in general, any moist environment. This promotes the growth of bacteria, resulting in an infection.

Many people do not realize that their lifestyle might also be contributing to chronic swimmer's ear. It can be caused due to many habits and a part of your lifestyle can give you swimmer’s ear.

Some of the causes of swimmer's ear include:

  • Excessive cleaning of the ear canal using a cotton swab or anything else.
  • Too much prodding around in the ear canal with either a cotton swab or any other object.
  • A cut in the skin of the ear canal
  • Coming in contact with excessive bacteria which may be present in polluted water and even hot tubs.
  • Contact with certain chemicals that are present in hair sprays or hair dyes. It is advisable to put cotton balls in your ears before you use these products.
  • Damage to the skin of the ear canal. This usually happens in the process of using water irrigation for removing ear wax.
  • Skin conditions such as eczema or seborrhea that affects the ear canal.

Treatments to Get Rid of Swimmer's Ear

Treatment of swimmer's ear should begin at the earliest to prevent possible complications. Treatment for early stages of swimmer's ear includes careful cleaning of the ear canal, followed by the use of ear drops that stop further growth of bacteria or fungus, and also reduces inflammation. Ear drops need to be administered in the affected ear for some time in order to ensure that the infection has been cleared out. Your doctor may even take a fluid sample from your ear in order to determine the type of infection you have.

While treatment of swimmer's ear depends on the type of infectious agent and also on the severity of the infection, some treatment options may include:

  • Thorough drainage and cleaning of the ear canal
  • Painkillers
  • Steroid-based ear drops to treat the infection or antibiotic ear drops
  • Anti-fungal preparations for inhibiting the growth of fungus
  • Medicated drops are delivered close to the eardrum with the use of a wick
  • Oral or intravenous antibiotics
  • Measures to ensure the ear canal remains dry, such as using a shower cap while bathing or wearing earplugs.
  • Heat packs applied to the ear
  • Surgery is needed to treat and drain the skull bones in severe cases

As your lifestyle can give you swimmer’s ear too, managing your lifestyle is very important. It is advisable to assess your lifestyle and make the necessary changes, to avoid swimmer’s ear. Follow-up treatment of swimmer's ear is equally important to monitor the status of the infection. This is also necessary to have the ear cleaned again and also to replace the ear wick if needed. As an otolaryngologist has specialized equipment to efficiently clean the ear canal, it is advisable to visit the doctor itself for cleaning of the ears and not attempt it yourself at home. With the right treatment, most infections clear up within seven to ten days.

Home Remedies to Get Rid of Swimmer's Ear

As part of your healthy lifestyle, here are some home remedies to treat a mild case of swimmer's ear.

Onion Juice: Onion juice is effective home remedy to disinfect the ear and provide relief from pain associated with swimmers ear infection within few minutes of application. You can make the juice by blending a small onion and heating it in a microwave for just ten seconds. You can apply two to three drops of the juice in the infected ear with the help of a dropper. Drain the water from your ear by tilting your head after five minutes. If applied three times a day, the onion juice gives optimum results.

Warm Compress: Heat helps alleviate the pain. You can soak a washcloth in hot water and squeeze out the excess water. Placing this over the infected ear for a few minutes and repeating after every 15-20 minutes can be an effective home remedy to provide immense relief.

Olive Oil: Olive oil is known for its antiseptic properties and can be used to heal minor infection. You can also add ingredients such as vitamin E oil or garlic to the oil to increase its efficiency. Put four drops of oil three times daily in your infected ear to get relief from symptoms of swimmers ear naturally.

White Vinegar: The acid present in white vinegar inhibits bacterial growth in the ear canal and also reduces the itchiness making it an effective home remedy for swimmers ear. You can mix two to three teaspoons of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar in a bowl and apply two to three drops of this solution in the infected ear. Drain out the excess solution from your ear by tilting your head after few minutes. Repeating this twice daily shows good results.

How to Prevent Swimmer's Ear?

Even if it is true that your lifestyle can give you swimmer’s ear, it does not mean that you need to stop swimming. Nor does it mean that you must avoid tub baths. You can prevent swimmer’s ear by wearing a bathing cap or a shower cap. You can also use removable earplugs. After swimming, use a hair dryer on a low setting and dry your ear by keeping it at least 12 inches away from your face. The idea is to make sure that you dry your ears properly after swimming or following a shower as well. You can also dab a few drops of white vinegar or rubbing alcohol inside each of your ears to help dry them faster.

Some tips for prevention of swimmer's ear include:

  • Use earplugs while swimming.
  • Keep your ears free of moisture after swimming or bathing. Dry ears are unlikely to become infected.
  • Use a dry towel or even a hair dryer to dry your ears.
  • Don't' go overboard while cleaning your ears with a cotton swab.
  • Avoid poking your ears with your fingers as fingernails can also cut the delicate skin of the ear canal.
  • Try to plug your ears with cotton when using hair sprays, shampoos, or any other chemical products.
  • Avoid swimming in dirty or polluted waters.
  • Visit an otolaryngologist periodically to have your ears cleaned.

Swimmer's ear is a result of infection and inflammation of the ear canal and it can be very uncomfortable to suffer through this condition. While there are many causes, your lifestyle can give you swimmer’s ear, so take appropriate precautions. It is advisable to seek medical help at the slightest doubt of having an ear infection.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: November 30, 2017

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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