Swimmer's Ear

Main Symptoms

  • An infection of the skin that lines the ear canal
  • Itchy and somewhat painful ear canal
  • Currently engaged in swimming
  • Discomfort when the ear is moved up and down
  • The ear feels plugged
  • Discharge is slight in amount and clear
  • Cause: When water repeatedly gets trapped in the ear canal, the lining becomes wet and swollen. This makes it prone to superficial infection (swimmer’s ear). Ear canals were meant to be dry.

See More Appropriate Topic

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If

  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • Severe pain
  • Fever
  • Redness and swelling of outer ear

Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 and 4) If

  • You think your child needs to be seen
  • Constant ear pain
  • Yellow discharge from ear canal
  • Blocked ear canal
  • Swollen lymph node near ear
  • Cause is uncertain

Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If

  • You have other questions or concerns

Parent Care at Home If

  • Swimmer’s ear with no complications

Home Care Advice for Mild Swimmer’s Ear

  1. White Vinegar Rinses: Rinse the ear canals twice a day with extra-strength white vinegar (dilute it with equal parts warm water). Fill the ear canal. After 5 minutes, remove it by turning the head to the side and moving the ear. (Exception: ear tubes or hole in eardrum.) (Reason: restores the normal acid pH of the ear canal and reduces swelling)
  2. Pain Medicine: Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain relief.
  3. Local Heat: If pain is moderate to severe, apply a heating pad (set on low) or hot water bottle to outer ear for 20 minutes. (Caution: avoid burns) This will also increase drainage.
  4. Reduce Swimming Times. Try to avoid swimming until symptoms are gone. If on a swim team, it’s OK to continue. Swimming may slow recovery, but causes no serious harm.
  5. Contagiousness: Swimmer’s ear is not contagious.
  6. Expected Course: With treatment, symptoms should be better in 3 days.
  7. Prevention of Recurrences: Try to keep the ear canals dry. After showers, hair washing, and swimming, help the water run out by turning the head. Avoid cotton swabs. (Reason: packs in the earwax). If swimmer’s ear is a repeated problem, rinse the ear canals after swimming with a white vinegar-rubbing alcohol solution (equal parts of each).
  8. Call Your Doctor If
    • Ear symptoms last > 3 days after treatment
    • Your child becomes worse or develops any of the “Call Your Doctor Now” symptoms