Four Seasons Pediatrics

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Swimmers Ear

Dr. Miller Comment:  Due to the elevated outdoor temperatures and prolonged swimming we are seeing high numbers of children with swimmer’s ear.   Please consider using preventive ear drops (1 part of rubbing alcohol with 1 part white vinegar).  Apply 2-3 drops in each ear (let sit for 5 seconds and drain); after swimming every day. 


Swimmer’s ear is a condition that occurs when the ear canal becomes irritated. The ear canal is the part of the ear that leads from the outer ear to the ear drum (figure 1).  “Swimmer’s ear” is the name for external otitis that occurs in a person who swims frequently.


Several factors can increase your risk of swimmers ear.

Cleaning the ear canal removes ear wax. Ear wax serves to protect the ears from water, bacteria, and injury. Excessive cleaning or scratching can injure the skin, potentially leading to infection.

  • Swimming on a regular basis removes some of the ear wax, allowing water to soften the skin. Bacteria, which normally live in the ear canal, can then enter the skin more easily.
  • Wearing devices that block the ear canals, such as hearing aids, headphones, or ear plugs, can increase the risk of external otitis (if worn frequently) by injuring the skin.


The most common symptoms are:

  • Pain in the outer ear, especially when the ear is pulled or moved
  • Itchiness of the ear
  • Fluid or pus leaking from the ear
  • Difficulty hearing clearly


If you think that your child could have swimmer’s ear, you should call us to make an appointment.  We will examine the outside and inside of your ear to confirm the diagnosis.


Treatment aims to reduce pain and eliminate the infection. Most people with external otitis can be treated at home.  In some cases, we will flush out your ear with water and hydrogen peroxide before you begin treatment; this speeds healing by removing dead skin cells and excess ear wax.

Ear drops — Ear drops are usually prescribed to reduce pain and swelling caused by external otitis. It is important to apply the ear drops correctly so that they reach the ear canal:

  • Lie on your side or tilt your head towards the opposite shoulder.
  • Fill the ear canal with drops.
  • Lie on your side for 20 minutes or place a cotton ball in the ear canal for 20 minutes.
  • Finish the entire course of treatment, even if you begin to feel better within a few days.

You should begin to feel better within 36 to 48 hours of starting treatment. If your pain worsens or does not improve within this time period, call us.

Pain medication — If you have bothersome ear pain, you can take a non-prescription pain medication.

Avoid getting ears wet — During treatment, you should avoid getting the inside of your ears wet. While showering, you can place a cotton ball coated with petroleum jelly in the ear. However, you should not swim for 7 to 10 days after starting treatment (or until your child has NO pain with wiggling the ear and pressing on the part of the skin that protrudes from the ear).  Avoid wearing hearing aids and in-ear headphones until pain improves.


The old saying, “Don’t put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear” to clean the ear is true. The ear is self-cleaning; fingers, towels, cotton-tipped applicators, and other devices should not be used to clean the inside of the ears.

If you swim frequently, we recommend the following tips to reduce the chance of developing swimmer’s ear:

  • Shake your ears dry after swimming
  • After a day of swimming apply 2-3 drops of a preventive solution.  This can be purchased, or you can make it up yourself by adding 1 part of rubbing alcohol to 1 part of white vinegar.  Mix this into a eye dropper bottle and keep it in your swim bag.
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