If you think twice about jumping into the pool because you're worried about getting swimmer's ear, take heart. Most cases of the painful infection can be prevented if you follow some simple steps to protect your ears.
When water gets trapped in your ear canal after swimming, it becomes the perfect spot for bacteria to grow. To protect yourself before and after you swim -- or get in a spa or bath -- keep your ears dry.
Prevention Tips Before You Swim
Put in earplugs. If you can keep water out of your ear canal, you're much less likely to have a problem. Choose earplugs that are designed for swimming. A bathing cap that covers your ears can help, too.
Don't swim in lakes, ponds, or rivers with lots of bacteria. Check for posted signs about bacteria levels and whether it's safe to swim. High bacteria levels in the water can mean more bacteria in your ears.
Make sure pools and spas are clean. Dirty water is more likely to have bacteria. If you don't know if a pool or spa is clean, don't get in.
Prevention Tips After You Swim
Shake or drain water from your ears. Just tilt your head and let gravity do its thing. Pulling your earlobe at different angles can also help.
Dry your ears. Use a clean towel to gently rub the outside of your ear. You can also use a hair dryer. Just make sure to set it on low and hold it about 12 inches away from your ear.
Use eardrops. You can buy over-the-counter eardrops that will help dry up any leftover water. You can also make eardrops at home. Just mix a half-teaspoon of white vinegar and a half-teaspoon of rubbing alcohol and pour it into each ear. Then let it drain out. Don't put eardrops in your ear if you have had any ear pain, ear surgery, or have a tear in your eardrum (perforated eardrum).
Protect Your Ears
Despite the name, swimmer's ear isn't always caused by swimming. You can sometimes get it after scratching the inside of your ear canal, which can break the skin and let in germs.
Don't stick stuff in your ear! You've probably heard this before, but never put cotton swabs, hairpins, pen caps, pencils, your finger, tissues, or anything else into your ear canal. It not only damages your skin, but bits of cotton or tissue can get stuck and break down in your ear, raising the chances of an infection.
Leave earwax alone. Earwax plays an important role in protecting your ears. So when you try to pry it out, you raise your odds of getting swimmer's ear. What's more, you're also probably pushing wax farther into your ear. If you think you really do have too much earwax, talk to your doctor about safe ways to treat the problem.
Take off your headphones. Headphones -- especially ones you stick into your ear canal, like earbuds -- can sometimes scratch the skin, leading to infections.
Keep hearing aids clean. Just like earbuds, hearing aids can rub against the ear canal and lead to swimmer's ear. To lower your risk, make sure to take out your hearing aid each night to clean it regularly.
Put cotton balls in your ears before using hair spray, dye, or other products. Some people get swimmer's ear from chemicals in cosmetics, which irritate the skin.
Talk to your doctor if you have diabetes or immune problems (like HIV). You may have a greater chance of getting swimmer's ear and serious complications. Ask your doctor if you need to take extra steps to lower your risk, and call her right away if you have any ear pain.