Swimming sisters
July 5, 2018 | by Stephanie P. Rezendes PA-C

With more adults and children heading into the water now that it’s summer in Seattle, it’s a good time to learn about external otitis. External otitis can develop as a result of an infection, allergy, or skin problem. ‘Swimmer's ear’ is the name of external otitis that occurs in a person who swims frequently. Swimmer’s ear is a common type of outer ear infection, which occurs when the ear canal becomes irritated. The ear canal is the part of the ear that leads from the outer ear to the ear drum. Swimming is the biggest risk factor for this infection, especially swimming in water with high levels of bacteria. Pools that are chlorinated are less likely to spread bacteria.

Ways to Prevent Swimmer’s Ear

Keep the ears as dry as possible to decrease the risk of infection:

  • Use a swim cap.
  • Use a cotton ball or soft earplugs to prevent water from entering into ear.
  • Use an eardrop mixture of 50% rubbing alcohol, 25% white vinegar, and 25% distilled water to help dry up excess water after swimming.
  • Towel your head and ears after swimming.
  • After swimming, tilt your head so that each ear faces the ground to empty out excess water.
  • Blow dry your ears on a low setting, holding 12 inches away.

Common Symptoms of an Outer Ear Infection

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Pain or discomfort in the ear, especially when the ear is pulled or moved
  • Fluid or purulent discharge from ear
  • Itching
  • Excessive fluid drainage
  • Decreased hearing

When To Seek Treatment

It is important to seek medical attention if the pain becomes severe or the symptoms do not go away. Swimmer’s ear is usually treated with antibiotics, either in the form of pills or ear drops. In some cases, the ear will need to be flushed or suctioned clear by an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat) provider to improve response to treatment.