Tips for Preventing Swimmer’s Ear

Released: 7/17/2017



Before swimming, take the necessary precautions to protect your ears (and your children’s).  After you've enjoyed yourself in the water,  there are things you can do to prevent a serious earache.


Swimmer's ear can occur when water collects in the ear after a dip in the pool or lake—particularly in fresh water.   The leftover water, especially in the warm, humid summer months, creates an environment that helps bacteria grow.

Dr. Barry Shapiro , a WESTMED otolaryngologist at the Ridge Hill office, stresses that “prevention is the best way to treat swimmer’s ear. Since water collecting and remaining in the ear canal is the main source of swimmer’s ear prevention centers on drying the ear canal. After swimming in the summer, the ear canal must be carefully dried, either mechanically by vigorous shaking or with over-the-counter preparations that dry the ear canal. A hair dryer used on a low, cool setting also helps dry the ear.”

It is also very important to make sure that there is no significant ear wax in the ear canal before swimming. Wax traps water and predisposes to external ear infections. Dr. Shapiro stresses that “most people clear ear wax naturally, but in those that regularly collect ear wax,  the ears should be checked  prior to that eagerly anticipated summer vacation at the shore.”

The main symptoms of swimmer’s ear are itching and pain of the ear canal and a feeling of fullness. As the infection progresses, pain can be severe, and the blockage of the ear canal with associated muffled hearing is noted.

Treatment for an infection due to swimmer's ear includes acidifying or antibiotic ear drops. If the ear canal is swollen shut, a wick or sponge may be placed to facilitate successful treatment.  A swimmer’s ear infection is not the same as the typical ear infection that children get, known as otitis media. Otitis media is treated with oral antibiotics, not ear drops.

A final caution, an all-season tip for ear care:  Cotton-tipped applicators (such as Q-tips) should not be used to clean the ears.