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Sounding Off on Swimmer’s Ear

Sounding Off on Swimmer’s Ear

Summer’s not over yet. There’s still time to make a splash in the pool, ocean, or lake – and nobody wants to be left high and dry on the dock with an achy ear. 

So get in the swim! Read on for answers to six common questions to help you prevent, spot, and treat swimmer’s ear.  

1. What causes swimmer’s ear?

Swimmer’s ear occurs when bacteria grow in the delicate, outer part of the ear canal. Bacteria generally grow in moist environments, so ears that stay wet after swimming are more likely to become infected. Other risk factors include irritation or abrasions to the ear canal. 

Swimmer’s ear can happen to anyone when the conditions are right but is most common in children. And, because warmer months lend themselves to pool parties and cannonballs, it occurs most often during the summer.

2. Does dirty water cause swimmer’s ear?

Any dampness in your ear can lead to an infection, though the chlorine found in most pools discourages the growth of bacteria. Lakes, ponds, and oceans have a higher concentration of bacteria and can be more likely to result in swimmer’s ear. 

3. Can I prevent swimmer’s ear?

You can lower your risk of infection by keeping your ears dry and playing it safe:

  • Wear earplugs when taking a plunge
  • Gently dry the outer parts of your ear with a towel after spending time in the water 
  • Use a few drops of rubbing alcohol and vinegar (50/50) in your ears after swimming to help prevent the growth of bacteria and to dry out any remaining water
  • Keep your ears clear of all foreign objects 
  • Remember that earwax protects your ears from bacteria – using cotton swabs to clear wax can leave your ear more susceptible to infection

4. What are the initial signs?

The first signs may be mild – itching, redness, clear drainage, or slight pain.  Without treatment, you may develop more severe symptoms, like muffled hearing, radiating pain throughout the jaw and face, swollen lymph nodes, or fever. To avoid worsening symptoms or long-term complications, it’s important to seek medical attention at the first sign of infection. 

5. What’s the difference between swimmer’s ear and an ear infection?

Swimmer’s ear is an ear infection. It affects the ear canal (the part of the ear outside of the eardrum) rather than the middle or inner ear (the part of the ear on the inside of the eardrum). 

An ear infection of any kind is either viral or bacterial. Infections in the ear canal are usually caused by the growth of bacteria, making it most commonly a bacterial infection. 

Bacterial ear infections generally last longer and may need antibiotics, while viral ear infections are more likely to clear up on their own.

6. Do I need a prescription for swimmer’s ear?

Because this type of ear infection is almost always bacterial, it’s possible your clinician will recommend antibiotic ear drops.

It’s important to note that overuse of antibiotics can result in strains of bacteria that won’t respond to any currently available drugs. Please follow your clinician’s guidelines and always use medication as directed.  

In addition to any prescriptions, you can treat the symptoms at home:

  • Ease pain with a warm compress
  • Take ibuprofen 
  •  Get lots of rest

So go ahead and dive headfirst into what’s left of the summer. Your local vybe will be standing by for any summertime urgent care needs, like physicals, X-rays, and ear infection treatment.