A beautiful beach, humid day or nice, long shower — none of these scream “unpleasant.” However, each can cause an unpleasant ear infection called swimmer’s ear.
How swimmer’s ear begins
“A person can get swimmer’s ear without actually swimming,” said Susan Eckwright, an otolaryngology (ear-nose-throat) nurse practitioner.
Swimmer’s ear is inflammation or infection of the outer ear canal, caused by trapped moisture or trauma.
Trapped moisture can come from humid weather, showers or excess earwax. Trauma to the ear canal can come from use of objects such as Q-tips or bobby pins.
Some people get swimmer’s ear more often than others.
“I’ve been in water my entire life and have never had an ear infection,” Eckwright said. “But there are people who repeatedly get swimmer’s ear.”
Swimmer’s ear symptoms
If you have swimmer’s ear, you may notice pain, drainage, itching, fever or a decline in hearing.
Prevention: The magic recipe
The best equation for a healthy ear is clean, dry and acidic.
Equal parts of white vinegar and rubbing alcohol can dry and clean the ear canal,” Eckwright said.
If you do not have a hole in the eardrum or ear surgery history, try this combination after swimming or showering:
- 1 teaspoon of white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon of rubbing alcohol
Mix the ingredients in a cup.
Use an eyedropper to put a few drops in the first ear. Tilt your head to the opposite side to let the solution drain into the entire ear. Then tilt your head back the opposite way to let the remaining liquid drain out of the ear. Repeat in the second ear.
Alcohol is a drying agent and evaporates. Vinegar is acidic, so it increases the ear canal acidity, which makes it difficult for bacteria and fungus growth.
Other prevention methods
One of the simplest steps you can take to avoid infection is to refrain from getting water in the ear.
“Wear fitted ear plugs or just don’t go underwater,” Eckwright said.
Another trick is using a hair dryer on the lowest, coolest setting to dry the ear.
See an ENT specialist
If you have had repeated ear pain or believe you have swimmer’s ear, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist can help.
“We’ll culture the infection and figure out exactly what you are dealing with,” she said.