Ear - Swimmer's  

This Care Guide Covers:

  • An infection or irritation of the skin that lines the ear canal
  • The ear canal is itchy or painful
  • Caused by lots of swimming or using cotton swabs

If not, see these topics
  • Doesn't match the symptoms of swimmer's ear and has ear pain. See EARACHE.
  • Doesn't match the symptoms of swimmer's ear and has ear congestion. See EAR CONGESTION.
When to Call Your Doctor

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If
  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • Severe ear pain and not improved after using care advice
  • Redness and swelling of outer ear
  • Fever over 104° F (40° C)
  • You think your child needs to be seen urgently
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
  • You think your child needs to be seen, but not urgently
  • Yellow discharge or pus from ear canal
  • Fever
  • Blocked ear canal
  • Swollen lymph node near ear
  • You are not sure that ear pain is caused by swimmer’s ear
  • Ear symptoms last over 7 days on treatment
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If
  • You have other questions or concerns
Parent Care at Home If
  • Swimmer's ear with no complications
Causes & Health Information

Symptoms

  • Starts with an itchy ear canal
  • Ear canal can become painful
  • Pain gets worse when the ear is moved up and down
  • The ear feels plugged or full
  • Ear discharge may start as the swimmer’s ear gets worse
  • No cold symptoms or fever

Causes

  • When water gets trapped in the ear canal, the lining becomes wet and swollen.
  • This makes it prone to an infection with germs (swimmer's ear).
  • Wax buildup also traps water behind it. Most often, this is caused by cotton swabs.
  • Ear canals were meant to be dry.

Return to School

  • Swimmer's ear cannot be spread to others.  No need to miss any school or child care.
CARE ADVICE FOR MILD SWIMMER'S EAR

  1. What You Should Know:
    • Swimmer's ear is a mild infection of the ear canal.
    • It's caused by water getting trapped in the ear canal. Ear canals were meant to be dry.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. White Vinegar Rinses:
    • Rinse the ear canals with half-strength white vinegar. Mix vinegar with equal parts warm water. (Exception: ear tubes or hole in eardrum.)
    • Start by having your child lie down with the painful ear upward.
    • Fill the ear canal.
    • Wait 5 minutes. Then, turn your child's head to the side and move the ear. This will remove the vinegar rinse.
    • Do the other side.
    • Continue twice a day until the ear canal returns to normal.
    • Reason: Restores the normal acid pH of the ear canal and lessens swelling.
  3. Pain Medicine:
    • To help with the pain, give acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen. Use as needed. See Dose Table.
  4. Heat Pack:
    • If pain is moderate to severe, use a heating pad (set on low). You can also use a warm wet cloth to outer ear. Do this for 20 minutes. (Caution: Avoid burns). This will also increase drainage.
  5. Reduce Swimming Times:
    • Try not to swim until symptoms are gone.
    • If on a swim team, it's usually okay to continue.
    • Swimming may slow your child's recovery, but causes no serious harm.
  6. Return to School:
    • Swimmer's ear cannot be spread to others.
  7. What to Expect:
    • With treatment, symptoms should be better in 3 days.
    • They should be gone in 7 days.
  8. Prevention of Symptoms:
    • Try to keep the ear canals dry.
    • After showers, hair washing, or swimming, help the water run out of ears. Do this by turning the head.
    • Do not use cotton swabs. Reason: Packs in the earwax. The wax buildup then traps water behind it.
    • If swimmer's ear is a frequent problem, rinse the ear canals after swimming. Use a few drops of a white vinegar-rubbing alcohol rinse. Use equal parts of each to make the rinse.
  9. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Ear pain becomes severe
    • Ear symptoms last over 7 days on treatment
    • Your child becomes worse

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.
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Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.


Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

Last Reviewed: 9/1/2012

Last Revised: 1/13/2013

Content Set: Child Symptom Checker

Copyright 1994-2012 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.