Ask the Doctor: How can I prevent swimmer’s ear?

Q: Now that school term is ending and it’s getting hotter, our children are eagerly looking forward to some serious pool time. I’m worried about swimmer’s ear from public pools, though. How can I make sure they don’t get it?


A: When water stays in the ear canal, the dampness can encourage bacteria to grow, causing infections.

Signs of Swimmer’s Ear include:

  • Itching
  • Ear Pain
  • Swelling in the canal with or without decreased hearing

Babies or young children may tug or pull on an ear, become cranky or sleep poorly.

swimmers ear 300x199 Ask the Doctor: How can I prevent swimmer’s ear? Photo

Can you prevent swimmer’s ear?

Treatment consists of eardrops prescribed by a doctor with bacteria-killing antibiotics. Occasionally, a wick or tiny sponge is inserted into the canal with medication to keep the antibiotic in constant contact with the canal. Pain medication like Ibuprofen can also be used to help the symptoms until the antibiotic works. Unfortunately, swimming might have to wait for 7-10 days until the infection is gone.

To prevent swimmer’s ear from happening to you or your child, take the following precautions:

1) Dry each ear canal after swimming. Tip your head to each side allowing the water to run out. Toweling or use of hair dryer on the coolest setting can help.

For susceptible children, a drop or two of rubbing alcohol after swimming will dry the canal. Over-the-counter drying agents can be used like Auro-Dri or Swim Ear containing isopropyl alcohol or one with acetic acid and aluminum acetate like Star-Otic.

Homemade remedies include a drop or two of half strength white vinegar (half white vinegar/ half water twice a day or a drop of rubbing alcohol mixed with equal parts of white vinegar after swimming.

2) Don’t Remove Earwax. Earwax protects the canal from water exposure to the sensitive skin of the ear canal so don’t vigorously remove this wax.

3) Use Earplugs. They will keep water out of the ear while swimming. If maintaining the earplugs in place is a problem, they also come with neoprene swimmer’s headbands.

By being prepared, you can help your children stay healthy, and save the fun of summer. The next time your kids jump up and down excitingly asking you if they can go swimming, you can be the one that gives a resounding yes!