Swimmer dives underwater in pool, which can contribute to swimmer's ear


Simple ways to deter painful swimmer's ear

On hot summer days we're often tempted to jump into a pool or lake to cool off. It feels great, but for some, it can result in a painful ear infection known as swimmer's ear.

Swimmer's ear, also called otitis externa, isn't the same thing as common childhood middle ear infections. Swimmer's ear infection is confined to the outer ear canal. It can affect anyone, but it's most common in children. We see more of it in the summer because bacteria in pools and lakes are a common cause.

Symptoms of swimmer's ear include:

  • itchiness inside the ear
  • redness  
  • swelling of the outer ear
  • outer ear pain

One way to differentiate it from a middle ear infection is to tug gently on the ear lobe. If it hurts, it's most likely swimmer's ear. Understand the four ways to spot the difference between swimmer's ear and an ear infection.

Red, itchy ear with no fever? Start an online visit

How to prevent swimmer's ear

Swimmer's ear is caused by germs that need water to survive, so the best thing you can do to avoid an infection is to keep your ears dry.

  • Dry ears thoroughly after swimming or showering.
  • Keep objects out of your ears, including cotton-tip swabs. Cotton swabs are scratchy, with fibers that can break the delicate skin in your ears and allow bacteria to enter and create an infection.
  • Don't try to remove ear wax. Your ears are self-cleaning! Ear wax migrates out of your ear on its own and actually helps protect your ear canal from infection. Contact your health care provider if you think your ear canal is blocked by ear wax.
  • Make sure the pool or hot tub is maintained at the right disinfectant and pH levels. If levels are correct they are less likely to spread germs.
  • Some people are successful at keeping water out of their ears by wearing a swim cap or custom-fitted swim ear molds.

Swimmer's ear can usually be treated in children and adults with an online visit, like Allina Health Everyday Online. This is especially convenient if symptoms start while you're away from home, after clinic hours or over the weekend. Whether you choose to be seen online or in person, your provider will likely prescribe antibacterial drops to treat swimmer's ear.


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