Swimmer’s ear is an ear infection localized in your outer ear canal, and is one of the most common problems among swimmers (hence the name!).
According to the MayoClinic,
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“Acute external otitis or otitis externa… is often brought on by water that remains in your ear after swimming, creating a moist environment that aids bacterial growth.”
Of course, it’s not ONLY caused by swimming, but can be the result of inserting anything into your ear.
But how can you tell if your ear infection or ear ache is actually swimmer’s ear and not some other problem? In this article, we’ll look at how to diagnose the problem and what to do for swimmers ear.
We’ll not only give you the options of medical treatment for swimmers ear, but you’ll learn a few swimmers ear home remedies as well. By the end of this page, you’ll know everything you need to about dealing with the problem!
Note: To learn more about what swimmer’s ear is and swimmer’s ear prevention, read this post What is Swimmer’s Ear and What are the Symptoms?
How to Diagnose Swimmers Ear
Before you undergo swimmers ear treatment, don’t you want to be certain you’re treating for the right thing? How can you be certain that it’s actually swimmer’s ear and not some other infection?
Thankfully, diagnosing the problem is fairly simple for your ear doctor!
When you visit your doctor, they’ll start out by asking you a few questions. They may ask about your recent activity, any symptoms you’re experiencing, if you’ve inserted anything into your ear, etc.
A simple physical examination will usually be enough to determine if it’s swimmer’s ear or some other type of infection.
The physical exam will include:
- Ear canal exam using an otoscope. This instrument shines a light into your ear, helping the doctor to see if the ear canal is scaly, swollen, red, or filled with debris or flakes of skin – all signs that you have swimmer’s ear.
- Ear drum visualization, or taking a closer look at your ear using the otoscope. Your doctor wants to be certain the ear drum isn’t damaged or torn.
These two tests will usually be enough for the doctor to render a diagnosis.
However, the doctor may recommend further evaluations according to the stage of your swimmer’s ear or the severity of the infection.
This may include:
- Taking a sample. This usually only happens if the infection doesn’t respond to the treatment. This is done to detect the exact bacteria causing the infection, making it easier to treat that specific problem.
- Referral to an ENT. An ear, nose, and throat specialist will be called in if the eardrum is torn or damaged, and they will examine your middle ear for any signs of infection. This is because the treatments used to deal with outer ear canal infections are different from those for the middle ear canal.
Thankfully, these last two are rarely used, as swimmer’s ear tends to be a fairly simple, easy-to-deal-with sort of infection!
But now that you know how swimmer’s ear is diagnosed, it’s time to move on to the next step: how to treat swimmer’s ear…
How to Treat Swimmer’s Ear
According to WebMD,
“Swimmer’s ear is usually not a dangerous condition and often clears up within a few days after starting treatment.”
What a relief! It’s a condition that is easily treated, using a number of different options:
Medical Treatment for Swimmers Ear
The best way to deal with the problem: visit your doctor! Once you undergo an exam to ensure it’s swimmer’s ear, the doctor may recommend one of the following treatments:
The doctor will usually give your ear canal a gentle cleaning, using either a suction device or cotton-tipped probe. This cleaning will eliminate most of the debris and flaking skin, essentially removing the bacteria’s food source.This will help to reduce the pain and irritation of the infection.
Note: Oto-Tip is a safe, effective way to clean your ears at home. The soft-tipped device will remove wax efficiently, eliminating debris and flaking skin!
The most commonly recommended medications for your swimmer’s ear are:
- Naproxen (Aleve)
- Ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin)
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
These are all OTC medications, and they will usually help to reduce the pain of the infection.
Note: If the infection is severe, a stronger antibiotic will usually be administered.
This is the most common medical treatment for swimmer’s ear, and the most effective. The prescribed eardrops contain a combination of:
- Acidic solution, to balance your ear canal’s pH and fight off the bacteria
- Antibiotic, to fight off the bacterial infection
- Steroid, to reduce the swelling
Note: If the infection is caused by fungi rather than bacteria, the ear drops will contain antifungal medication.
The ear drops are easily applied, and they can help to deal with the problem effectively. You can ask someone to apply the drops for you, or apply them yourself at home.
Of course, if your ear canal is VERY swollen or there is a discharge of fluid, the ear drops may not be as effective on their own. The doctor will usually insert a “wick” made of gauze or cotton, and apply the drops to the wick.
The liquid will seep down, treating the infection effectively!
Swimmers Ear Home Remedies
Of course, if you don’t want to go the route of doctors and medications, you can always try to handle the problem at home. There are many home remedies that can help you clear up the infection easily.
Here are a few swimmers ear home remedies you can try:
Using vinegar for swimmers ear can help to dry out the infected area and stop bacterial and fungal growth.
To apply vinegar, simply mix it with rubbing alcohol and pour a few drops into the ear. It can be a bit painful, but it works!
For those who want to know how to treat swimmer’s ear with peroxide, it’s as simple as pouring a few drops into your ear.
The hydrogen peroxide will help to reduce the infection and kill off the bacteria.
Place something warm next to your ear, and the heat will help to reduce the pain and discomfort of the infection.
Here are a few more tips for preventing and treating swimmer’s ear:
- Keep your ears dry after a shower. Use cotton balls with Vaseline (on the outside) to stop water from getting into your ears and making the infection worse.
- Avoid using cotton swabs, no matter how bad the itching gets!
- Leave your hearing aid out until the swelling has gone down and the discharge stops. The same goes for headphones and ear plugs.
- Don’t fly until the infection clears up. Swimming and scuba diving are also no-nos!
It’s important that you understand that these home remedies are a simple alternative to medication. They’re not the most effective option, so it may be best to visit your doctor for proper treatment.
Sometimes, it’s better to take the medication (ear drops or antibiotics) than go the natural route!
Swimmer’s ear is a fairly minor problem, but, if left untreated, can become a serious problem!
According to WebMD,
“If untreated, it can become extremely and surprisingly painful. In rare cases, especially in diabetes patients or anyone with problems with their immune system, the infection may be more difficult to treat and can spread and damage underlying bones and cartilage, requiring hospitalization.”
Yikes! The last thing you want is for the bacterial infection to spread to the cartilage and tissue in your bones! So close to your brain…
Thankfully, treating swimmer’s ear is fairly simple, so you should have no problem using the medication, medicated ear drops, and home remedies to deal with the infection.
The infection will clear up in a few days (if treated properly), and there will be no permanent damage to your ear drum, ear canal, or hearing. Phew!