Summertime is the most common time of year for kids and adults alike to experience otitis externa (commonly known as swimmer’s ear). This outer ear infection is often caused by water trapped in the ear during swimming or even showering or bathing. The moist conditions created by the trapped water make the ear canal a great place for bacteria to thrive, but swimming isn’t the only cause. While Q-tips are a temptingly easy way to clean out earwax, sticking anything inside the ear canal can scratch the sensitive membrane inside, giving bacteria an entry into the body.
So what does it feel like?
Like most ear infections, swimmer’s ear causes a range from discomfort to severe pain and may be accompanied by itching, but in more severe cases could also be accompanied by pain in the face and neck, fever and swollen lymph nodes. The Ear, Nose and Throat Center of Utah suggest pulling down on your ear lobe. If it hurts, you may have swimmer’s ear and if it doesn’t, it is possible you have an inner or middle ear infection instead.
Great. So what now?
It is always a good idea to visit with your doctor. They may prescribe antibiotics to ward off the bacteria and a common pain medication (like ibuprofen or acetaminophen) to help with the discomfort. They can also tell you whether or not it is swimmer’s ear or something else.
If you are determined to fend it off at home, you can try one of the following tips. *
- Hydrogen Peroxide: Drip hydrogen peroxide into the ear canal a few drops at a time. Really, it doesn’t take much. Let it sit in your ear for a maximum of 10 minutes, but if you get motion sick easily start with a minute and work up from there. Trust me, you don’t want to let this sit for too long unless feeling like you just got off the world’s twistiest roller coaster is your thing (remember your ears are in charge of your balance).
- Rubbing Alcohol and Vinegar Mix: Mix equal parts vinegar, rubbing alcohol and water and drip a few drops at a time. Let sit for one minute and drain.
*Please keep in mind that if a perforated eardrum is causing your pain, this is going to be painful and counterproductive. Your surest bet is to get confirmation from a doctor that swimmer’s ear is what you’re up against.
I never want this to happen again. What do I do?
The most important thing is to keep your ears dry and clean. You can use ear plugs while swimming, but it isn’t necessary - just make sure to let the water run out of your ears after swimming, showering or bathing. You can also use a hair dryer on the low and cool setting to gently dry out your ears. DO NOT USE QTIPS to clean your ears. Using hydrogen peroxide is a great way to clean out your ears without risking damage to the ear canal. Earwax is there for a reason, though (like protecting it from bacteria), so only clean out your ears when it is necessary to do so.
Have you or your kiddos had the pleasure of overcoming swimmer’s ear? Tell us how you handled it below!