Treatments for Swim-Ear

Common Treatments for Swimmer's Ear

Common Treatments for Swimmer's Ear

Swimmer’s ear is an infection that typically results from excess moisture within the outer ear canal. This infection has been dubbed ‘swimmer’s ear’ because swimmers are more prone to developing it due to their overexposure to water. However, anyone can experience swimmer’s ear, and the effects not only can disrupt everyday life until the infection clears; the complications resulting from an untreated infection can be severe, including permanent blockage within the ear and hearing loss. For most sufferers of swimmer’s ear, swim ear drops are quite effective at relieving the symptoms and clearing the infection. Swim-ear drops are fairly easy to use and can be administered a home quickly. For others whose symptoms have progressed without treatment, more aggressive treatment may be necessary. Following is more information about how the infection occurs, diagnosing swimmer’s ear, the most common treatments available today, and important notes about its prevention.

Swimming is a Great Exercise!

Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear

The website of the Mayo Clinic defines swimmer's ear as an infection in the outer ear canal, which is the part of the ear's structure that runs from the eardrum to the outside of the head. Swimmer’s ear is most often caused by bacteria that grow within the ear due to excess moisture. But don’t be fooled by its name. Because swimmer’s ear develops due to moisture within the ear, everyone is susceptible to developing this ear infection. In fact, with today’s more prevalent use of ear phones and ear buds, swimmer’s ear infections are actually on the rise. Humidity, showering, swimming, ear phones and ear buds, and even hearing aids can lead to swimmer’s ear infections, and the symptoms can range from mild or moderate to severe. The early symptoms of swimmer’s ear include mild pain, itching, redness, and drainage of clear fluid. In its moderate stages, the symptoms can include more pronounced pain, itching, or redness; pus discharge from within the ear; a feeling of fullness caused by swelling or even blockage within the ear canal; and decreased hearing. When a swimmer’s ear infection goes untreated, the symptoms that can occur may become severe. These may include severe pain that occurs not just in the ear, but the pain and even swelling can radiate to the neck, face, and inside the head. Other severe symptoms may include severe redness, itchiness, or feeling of blockage; swelling of the outer ear; and even fever and swelling of the lymph nodes.

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How to Diagnose Swimmer’s Ear

Your healthcare provider typically will be able to diagnose your swimmer’s ear infection from a fairly limited physical examination that will need to include a brief history of your recent activities (in order to determine your exposure to water or moisture). Your physician likely will tug gently upon the affected ear to demonstrate the level of pain you are experiencing. Your physician also may use an otoscope (a lighted scope) to look into your ear canal to determine the amount of swelling, redness, and fluid discharge occurring. If there is fluid discharge, your physician may also need to retrieve a sample of the fluid in order to observe it under a microscope. This will be done to determine if fungi or bacteria are causing your swimmer’s ear, as this information will permit a healthcare provider to prescribe proper medications if necessary. In very rare cases, x-rays or blood tests may be needed, but this is not likely. Below are some of the questions you should expect your physician to ask:

  • Have you gone swimming recently?
  • If so, where did you swim?
  • Have you ever suffered from swimmer’s ear in the past?
  • When did you first notice your swimmer’s ear symptoms?
  • Are you a regular swimmer?
  • Do you use ear phones or buds?
  • Do you wear a hearing aid?
  • Do you use objects such as cotton swabs, bobby pins, etc., to clean your ears?
  • Do you have any skin conditions or allergies?

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Common Swim-Ear Treatments

When your healthcare provider has diagnosed swimmer’s ear, you will have a number of treatment options from which to choose, depending upon the type of infection, the severity of your symptoms, and the stage of your infection. You may decide to have medical treatment for your swimmer’s ear, or you may decide to try one of the natural treatments, many of which can be performed at home. However, if you try any of the home remedies for your swimmer’s ear and the infection continues, you should seek medical attention.

The first step is cleaning

Medications for swimmer’s ear typically target symptoms. When symptoms have been alleviated, the infection itself generally has cleared up as well. Whether you seek medical attention from a healthcare provider or you attempt to relieve your swimmer’s ear using a home remedy, the first step should be cleaning the ear thoroughly in order to remove debris from the ear canal. Your physician likely will begin your treatment by cleaning the ear canal, with this step being followed up by treating the ear’s inflammation as well as controlling pain. If any fluid is discharging from the ear, a sample of the drainage may be obtained in order to test a culture for bacteria or fungus growth. It may also be necessary to clear or clean out as much fluid discharge from the ear as possible in order to properly dispense medication into the canal.

After the cleaning

The ear canal may be cleaned using suction, after which your physician may place a foam wick inside your ear canal which will permit swim ear drops such as an antifungal or antibiotic to be placed onto the wick. At this time, the wick will swell inside the ear which will allow for medication to remain in place. Oral pain medications may also be prescribed by your physician, or an over-the-counter pain medication may be recommended. If the infection has progressed beyond a mild or even moderate stage and symptoms are severe, oral antibiotics may be prescribed.

Olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil has been used for centuries to reduce or even eliminate the effects of an outer ear canal infection, and it can be quite effective. For olive oil to work, first warm several drops of it, then place these inside the affected ear canal. Cover your ear with a cotton ball to prevent the oil from draining before it's done its work. Keep it in for 20 minutes to a half hour.

Heating pad

A heating pad (or hot compress, if you don't have a heating pad) can be another effective natural remedy for treating your swimmer's ear. Hold the heating pad or hot compress against the affected ear. The heat will help to evaporate any excess moisture, which will aid in reducing the pain and other symptoms of your swimmer's ear.

Baby oil

Baby oil is another effective way to reduce or even eliminate your swimmer's ear. Use baby oil just as you would the home remedy that utilizes extra virgin olive oil, just substitute baby oil. This is also an effective way to prevent swimmer's ear.

Garlic oil

Garlic oil has known inflammation-reducing agents. Again, simply warm the garlic oil, place a few drops into the ear canal, and hold in with a cotton ball. Garlic oil is a great choice if you're looking to boost your immunity.

Rubbing alcohol and white vinegar

A mixture of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar can be very effective for treating swimmer’s ear. Rinse your ears with a cotton ball that has been soaked in equal parts of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar. Hold it to your ear and, if necessary, cover with a clean cloth or more cotton balls to prevent the mixture from leaking out.

Blow dryer

A blow dryer can also help to reduce the effects of swimmer's ear. Simply set your blow dryer to a low setting (that won't burn your ear). Then hold it about 15 inches away from your ear to dry out excess moisture.

Ear candling

Ear candling, or ear coning, is a natural remedy that is still in hot debate. While many holistic professionals swear by this method, other healthcare providers believe the practice to be ineffective and even risky. The procedure is designed to remove excess ear wax as well as toxins, thereby cleansing the sinus cavities of bacteria that are causing swimmer’s ear.

This procedure should be performed by two people. During this procedure, one end of a hollow candle is lighted while the other end of the candle is held in the subject’s ear canal. The subject must lie on his side with the ear to be treated held uppermost. An object such as a paper plate is held between the subject’s ear/face and the candle itself in order to keep the patient from being touched by hot wax. The procedure is designed to create negative pressure which can draw out the wax, thereby removing bacteria causing infection. However, though many proponents of ear candling may swear by it, as mentioned above, many healthcare providers believe this practice to be ineffective at best and dangerous at worst (due to the fire and hot wax).

As with any medical condition, the best way to treat swimmer’s ear is to prevent it from developing in the first place. After swimming or showering, be sure to dry your ears thoroughly. If you’re prone to ear infections, take extra precautions to ensure your ears are dry, such as by using a blow dryer. You may even want to use swim ear drops on a regular basis in order to prevent the infection from occurring. If you use ear phones, ear buds, or a hearing aid, always be sure the section that goes into your ear canal is clean and dry.

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This page is intended for informational purposes only. Prior to attempting any of the Swim-ear treatments discussed on this page you should consult with a medical professional to get an expert pinion.