4 Best Ways To Treat Swimmer’s Ear


Summer is finally here, and you know what that means…a lot of swimming and consequently, a lot of swimmer’s ear. Here at Westchester Health Pediatrics, we’re all too familiar with this painful condition and would like to share some information to help families avoid it in the future.

What causes swimmer’s ear?

Mason Gomberg-001R WEB72

Mason Gomberg, MD

Swimmer’s ear is an inflammation of the outer ear canal and occurs when water gets into the ear, usually during swimming or bathing, and does not properly drain out. When this happens, the stagnant water can cause the ear canal to become irritated and infected.

Infancy and early childhood are the peak years for middle-ear infections like swimmer’s ear.

Children with this condition will com­plain of itching or pain in the ear, the latter particularly when the head or the ear itself is moved or pulled. Sometimes swimmer’s ear pain can radiate to the jaw or mimic a sore throat. As the canal swells, hearing will decrease and the infected ear may ooze yel­lowish pus.

Certain swimming areas, particularly lakes, tend to have a concentration of kids with swimmer’s ear at one time. This should be pointed out to the swim director or lifeguard because it is probably a sign that the water is not properly balanced and has a high level of bacteria.

Symptoms that might signal swimmer’s ear

  • Severe ear pain that gets worse when the ear is touched or tugged
  • Jaw pain
  • Sore throat
  • Itching in the ear canal
  • Greenish-yellowish discharge
  • Temporary hearing loss in the affected ear, due to the canal’s becoming swollen or filled with pus
  • Redness around the ear canal opening

How to treat swimmer’s ear in your child

NOTE: Children under treatment for swimmer’s ear can still go into a pool/lake but should not get their head or ears wet while taking medicine for this condition.

From our years of experience, these are the 4 best ways to treat swimmer’s ear:

  1. Ear drops. After cleaning the infected ear, your pediatrician will begin treatment with medicated eardrops to kill bacteria and fungus, as well as reduce inflammation. The average course of treatment runs approximately one week. Note: It is not unusual for ear pain from swimmer’s ear to intensify for a day or two before the drops take effect.
  2. Antibiotics. Occasionally, the ear infection is severe enough to warrant the additional use of an oral antibiotic.
  3. Keep your child’s ears dry, and continue giving the medication for 2-3 weeks after the symptoms fade. When showering or washing your child’s hair, cover his/her head with a plastic cap or protect the ear canals with a soft earplug such as a cotton ball covered with Vaseline or OTB ear putty.
  4. A warm compress or heating pad against the ear will help reduce pain. Pain relievers such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs will also help.

How you can prevent swimmer’s ear

  1. Once your child has had a swimmer’s ear in­fection, you should try to prevent future episodes. To do this, place drops in the ears after swimming—either a 70% alcohol solu­tion or a mixture of ½ alcohol, ½ white vinegar. Also, dry the ears with a towel immediately after swimming or bathing.
  2. It’s also recommended to dry out your child’s ears by having him/her sit out for 10-15 min for every 1-2 hours in the water.
  3. Never use a Q-tip to dry out the ear canal.

Come see us, we’re here to help

If you think your child might have swimmer’s ear, please make an appointment with Westchester Health Pediatrics. One of our pediatricians will diagnose whether or not your child does indeed have swimmer’s ear. If this is the case, together with you, we will decide on the best course of action to treat the infection so your child can feel better as quickly as possible. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

Make an appt

By Mason Gomberg, MD, Pediatric Physician with Westchester Health Pediatrics, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners

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About the Author: ML Ball