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Ear - Swimmer's


  • An infection or irritation of the ear canal from lots of swimming
  • The ear canal is itchy or painful
  • Also caused by using cotton swabs

Symptoms of Swimmer's Ear

  • Starts with an itchy ear canal
  • Ear canal can become painful
  • Pain gets worse when you press on the tragus. (The tragus is the tab of tissue in front of the ear.)
  • The ear feels plugged or full
  • Ear discharge may start as the swimmer's ear gets worse
  • No cold symptoms or fever

Cause of Swimmer's Ear

  • Water gets trapped in the ear canal. Then, the lining becomes wet and swollen.
  • This makes it prone to an infection with germs (swimmer's ear).
  • Wax buildup also traps water behind it. Most often, this is caused by cotton swabs.
  • Ear canals were meant to be dry.

When To Call

Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

  • Severe ear pain and not improved after using care advice
  • Redness and swelling of outer ear
  • Fever higher than 104° F (40° C)
  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Contact Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Yellow discharge or pus from ear canal
  • Fever
  • Blocked ear canal
  • Swollen lymph node near ear
  • You are not sure that ear pain is caused by swimmer's ear
  • Ear symptoms last more than 7 days on treatment
  • You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Contact Doctor During Office Hours

  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Swimmer's ear with no other problems

Care Advice

What You Should Know About Swimmer's Ear:

  • Swimmer's ear is a mild infection of the ear canal.
  • It's caused by water getting trapped in the ear canal. Ear canals were meant to be dry.
  • Here is some care advice that should help.

White Vinegar Rinses:

  • Rinse the ear canals with half-strength white vinegar. Mix vinegar with equal parts warm water. Exception: ear tubes or hole in eardrum.
  • Start by having your child lie down with the painful ear upward.
  • Fill the ear canal.
  • Wait 5 minutes. Then, turn your child's head to the side and move the ear. This will remove the vinegar rinse.
  • Do the other side.
  • Continue twice a day until the ear canal returns to normal.
  • Reason: restores the normal acid pH of the ear canal and lessens swelling.

Pain Medicine:

  • To help with the pain, give an acetaminophen product (such as Tylenol).
  • Another choice is an ibuprofen product (such as Advil).
  • Use as needed.

Heat For Pain:

  • If pain is moderate to severe, use a heating pad (set on low). You can also use a warm wet cloth to outer ear.
  • Do this for 20 minutes. Caution: avoid burns. Repeat as needed.
  • This will also increase drainage.

Reduce Swimming Times:

  • Try not to swim until symptoms are gone.
  • If on a swim team, it's usually okay to continue.
  • Swimming may slow your child's recovery, but causes no serious harm.

Return to School:

  • Swimmer's ear cannot be spread to others.

What to Expect:

  • With treatment, symptoms should be better in 3 days.
  • They should be gone in 7 days.

Prevention of Swimmer's Ear:

  • Try to keep the ear canals dry.
  • After showers, hair washing, or swimming, help the water run out of ears. Do this by turning the head.
  • Do not use cotton swabs. Reason: packs in the earwax. The wax buildup then traps water behind it.
  • If swimmer's ear is a frequent problem, rinse the ear canals after swimming. Use a few drops of a white vinegar-rubbing alcohol rinse. Use equal parts of each to make the rinse.
  • Lake water has the greatest risk. Rinse the ear canals with tap water after any lake swimming. Do this until you can get vinegar ear drops.

Call Your Doctor If:

  • Ear pain becomes severe
  • Ear symptoms last over 7 days on treatment
  • You think your child needs to be seen
  • Your child becomes worse


Barton Schmitt MD, FAAP
Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.
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