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Swimmer's Ear (Otitis Externa) - Topic Overview

How is it treated?

Follow these tips when treating swimmer's ear:

  • If your doctor prescribed eardrops, use them as directed.
  • Talk with your doctor before putting anything in your ear.
  • Avoid getting water in the ear until after the problem clears up.
  • Use a hair dryer to carefully dry the ear after you shower.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain medicine like acetaminophen (such as Tylenol), ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin), or naproxen (such as Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.

Some home treatment can help swimmer's ear. But it is important to see a doctor first. If your doctor says it's okay, you can try the following:

  • If your ear is itchy, try nonprescription swimmer's eardrops, such as Star-Otic or Swim-Ear. Use them before and after swimming or getting your ears wet.
  • To ease ear pain, apply a warm washcloth or a heating pad set on low. There may be some drainage when the heat melts earwax.
    • Do not use a heating pad when you are in bed. You may fall asleep and burn yourself.
    • Do not use a heating pad on a child.

In severe cases, the ear canal should be carefully cleaned out by an ear specialist. Sometimes, if the ear canal is very swollen, a wick with antibiotic drops will be placed in the ear canal.

Do not use ear candles. They have no proven benefit, and they can cause harm.

How can you prevent swimmer's ear?

You may be able to prevent swimmer's ear.

  • Do not scratch or clean the inside of the ear with cotton swabs, bobby pins, your fingernails, or other objects.
  • Avoid prolonged use of earplugs and in-ear headphones. Like cotton swabs, these can cause irritation and itching and can plug the ear with wax.
  • Keep soap, bubble bath, and shampoo out of the ear canal. These products can cause itching and irritation.
  • Keep your ears dry.
    • After you swim or shower, shake your head to remove water from the ear canal.
    • Gently dry your ears with the corner of a tissue or towel, or use a hair dryer on its lowest setting. Hold the dryer several inches away from the ear.
    • Put a few drops of rubbing alcohol or rubbing alcohol mixed with an equal amount of white vinegar in your ears after you swim or shower. You can also use over-the-counter drops, such as Star-Otic or Swim-Ear, to help prevent swimmer's ear. Wiggle the outside of the ear to let the liquid enter the ear canal.
  • Do not swim in dirty or polluted water.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 09, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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