Whether you swim for exercise or just enjoy an occasional splash in the pool each summer, there’s nothing worse than winding up with an earache after a refreshing dip.
Swimmer’s ear is an infection that often appears after swimming.
However, you may not know that you can get swimmer’s ear, even if you haven’t been in a pool!
Any excess moisture in your ear can cause an infection.
Knowing how to prevent swimmer’s ear will help you and your family enjoy your summer more, as can knowing how to treat this minor but irritating infection naturally at home.
We’ll help you understand the symptoms and causes of swimmer’s ear, as well as share several easy, natural treatments you can use at home on adults and children to treat swimmer’s ear.
Understanding Swimmers Ear
Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the outer ear canal that results from prolonged exposure to water.
While this is usually due to swimming (hence the name), it can also be caused by routine showering or other moist environments.
Most of the swimmer’s ear is from a bacterial infection, but a fungus can also cause it.
When water becomes trapped inside your ear, it causes you to scratch and irritates your ear canal to dislodge it.
This inflames the skin and often scratches the surface of your ear canal, making it vulnerable to infection.
The moist environment of your ear is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria or fungi to replicate, so you now have the ideal conditions for an ear infection.
Swimming in lakes, rivers, and pools, which often contain bacteria, also makes you more vulnerable to this infection.
Swimmer’s ear, which is also known as otitis externa, is usually prevented by the cerumen in your ears.
This wax-like material helps in fighting infection and gets rid of harmful substances from your ear canal.
Swimming or leaving your head below water (such as in a bath) for prolonged periods, overwhelms this natural defense, and infection can set in.
Putting objects, such as cotton swabs or fingers, into your ear canal can also lead to swimmer’s ear.
As you move objects around inside this delicate environment, you can damage the lining of the ear canal, leaving it vulnerable to infection.
You should never put objects inside your ear canal.
Most cases of swimmer’s ear are mild and don’t need more than a few days of ear drops.
However, in some instances, a stronger infection can develop.
It is, therefore, essential to treat swimmer’s ear at the first sign of symptoms.
The Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear
Most often, swimmer’s ear symptoms start very mildly.
If you don’t treat the infection, however, it can worsen or spread, leading to more adverse symptoms.
Swimmer’s ear is often categorized by its progression from mild to moderate to advanced.
Some discomfort and itching usually occur with initial or mild swimmer’s ear.
You may also have an odorless liquid seeping from your ear.
Moderate cases will include worsening pain, more fluid drainage that possibly includes pus, reduced hearing ability, and redness of the canal.
Advanced cases usually involve severe pain that may spread to your face, neck, or head, a spread of infection to your lymph nodes, fever and further itching and scaliness in your outer ear.
Should I See A Doctor?
If you have mild swimmer’s ear, you can begin treatment at home.
If symptoms worsen or do not respond to treatment and start to improve within two days, you should see a doctor.
Moderate to advanced cases should be evaluated by a physician to avoid the spread of infection.
If you have a fever or severe pain, you should seek immediate medical attention.
If your infection is severe or has lingered for a while, you may need antibiotics to treat your swimmer’s ear.
If your symptoms last for more than five to seven days, you should call your doctor.
Preventing Swimmer’s Ear
If you love to swim or have children who are especially prone to developing swimmer’s ear, it is important to know the precautions that you can take to help prevent this type of infection.
- Keep your ears dry. After showering, bathing, or swimming, you should dry your ears thoroughly with a towel. Tip your head to one side to allow any excess water to drain out, and then dry your ears with a blow dry set to low. Be sure to hold the dryer at least 12 inches from your ear.
- For those with a punctured eardrum, it is beneficial to use eardrops both before and after water exposure to prevent infection. A mixture of one part rubbing alcohol with one part white or apple cider vinegar will dry out your ear and inhibit the growth of microbes in your ear canal. Use one drop on each ear, letting it drain out.
- Avoid swimming in water that has a high bacterial count. Watch for signs on beaches or lake fronts alerting people to potential hazards.
- Don’t put anything in your ear. Scratching or cleaning out earwax with any object, including a cotton swab, is not recommended. You can push ear wax deeper into your ear canal and create more problems. You can break the delicate skin inside your ears.
- Avoid swimming after surgery or an ear infection. Talk with your doctor about when it’s safe to go back in the water.
Are Some More Prone to Swimmer’s Ear?
Some people, particularly some children, seem to develop swimmer’s ear more often than others.
It is not entirely clear why this is the case, but some evidence links the health of the gut microflora to inflammatory conditions and problems with the immune system.
We do know that your gut microbiome is connected to your ability to fight infection.
If you or your child gets swimmer’s ear frequently, it is worth investigating whether a change in diet could help.
Boost your immune system and lower inflammation in your body by eliminating inflammatory foods like sugar, refined grains, unhealthy fats, and processed foods.
All these foods raise your levels of inflammation, and while your body is attending to this, it is not responding to infections that you may have.
Eating a healthier diet rich in fiber, whole foods, and probiotics can increase the health and diversity of the microbes in your gut, which could help you end your chronic swimmer’s ear infections for good.
Naturally Treating Swimmer’s Ear
If you want to treat swimmer’s ear at home with natural ingredients and remedies, there are many from which to choose.
Most of these treatments are extremely easy and inexpensive.
You can do most of them with what you have in your house right now.
Here are the best and most popular natural treatments for swimmer’s ear.
Vinegar and Rubbing Alcohol
While this mixture is effective at helping to prevent a swimmer’s ear infection, it is also useful if you already have this ailment.
The mixture of alcohol and vinegar is excellent for drying out your ear canal, as well as ridding your ear of any minor infection.
To use, mix one part rubbing alcohol (or vodka) with one part vinegar.
You can use white or apple cider vinegar, but not raw apple cider vinegar.
Any vinegar with particles or a “mother” should be avoided.
Mix the two liquids in a small bottle, then place one teaspoon of the mixture into each ear.
Follow the directions below for the proper application of ear drops for the best results.
When you have swimmer’s ear, you may often experience minor pain in your ear.
To ease this discomfort, please a warm compress, a covered hot water bottle, or a heating pad against your infected ear.
Soak in the warmth for 10 minutes. Repeat every hour, as needed.
Garlic has natural antibacterial compounds, making it an excellent choice for treating swimmer’s ear.
If you have fluid draining from your ear or a punctured eardrum, you should not use this remedy.
Begin by roughly chopping two large garlic cloves.
Place them in a small saucepan with one-quarter of a cup of olive oil.
Place this on the stove and gently simmer over low heat for several minutes.
Strain the infused oil, place it into a container and allow it to cool slightly.
You should never put hot oil in your ear. However, slightly warm oil is very comforting.
This warmed oil is effective at drawing out excess water that is lodged in the canal.
The garlic infusion will help kill bacteria.
The warmed oil relieves pain and discomfort.
Place two drops of oil in your ear, then use a cotton square or ball to block the ear canal.
Place a hot compress or heating pad against your ear for 15 minutes, allowing the oil to drain downward and out onto the cotton, while you wait.
Repeat in the other ear, if it is also affected.
You can use this treatment up to three times per day if needed.
Hydrogen peroxide can help to stop the spread of infection, as well as eliminate any possible fungus inside your ear canal.
A three percent concentration of hydrogen peroxide should be mixed in equal parts with distilled water.
Two drops should then be placed in the affected ear.
You can also soak a cotton swan in this mixture and clean the outer ear, being careful not to penetrate too deeply into the canal.
Drops should remain in the ear for 30 seconds, then allowed to drain out thoroughly, by turning your head to one side.
Onion juice has been used for several hundred years to treat ear infections.
Onions are high in flavonoids, which are natural compounds that reduce inflammation and can help heal minor infections.
Onions also have some antibacterial qualities, adding to their usefulness.
To use, grate an onion, then place it over a fine sieve or cheesecloth and allow it to drain into a bowl for several hours.
The remaining juice should be placed in a container, and two drops can be added to your ear.
If you want to help ease pain or reduce the inflammation of a swimmer’s ear infection, turmeric is a wonderful choice.
For best results, start with fresh turmeric, which can be found in the produce section at many grocery stores.
It looks like ginger, only slightly larger and orange/yellow in color.
Infuse some oil with the fresh turmeric, following the method described above for garlic.
Once you have the strained oil cooled, also use as directed for the garlic oil.
Be aware that turmeric will stain fabrics a bright yellow, so use caution.
As a strong antibacterial agent, colloidal silver is an excellent choice as a swimmer’s ear treatment.
Silver particles are suspended in liquid, creating this treatment.
Once it is inside your ear, the silver clings to the cell’s walls of any bacteria, inhibiting their ability to reproduce.
To use, add two drops of colloidal silver to your infected ear.
Lay down with the affected ear facing upward for at least five minutes.
Press a towel to the ear, then turn over and allow the ear to drain for five more minutes.
Repeat this treatment twice per day.
You can use essential oils to reduce inflammation and help treat some of the symptoms of swimmer’s ear.
The two best oils for this application are tea tree oil and helichrysum.
They both work well for pain and inflammation.
Combine one teaspoon of carrier oil with one drop each of these essential oils.
Mix well, then dip a cotton ball into the oil.
Place this cotton into the outer ear, being sure not to force it into the ear canal.
Hold this cotton in place with some medical tape and leave it throughout the day or while you are sleeping.
Use for at least two days or until your symptoms recede.
Applying Ear Drops Correctly
Whichever treatment you are using for your swimmer’s ear infection, you need to be sure that you are applying your drops correctly for the maximum efficacy of the therapy.
Here are the necessary steps for the proper application of ear drops.
- Lie down, so that your infected ear is facing upwards.
- Place the recommend dosage of drops into your ear.
- Remain lying down for several minutes (up to 15 if needed) to allow the drops to be absorbed or to take effect.
Some treatments may not need to remain in the ear for this long, and which is shown in the above instructions.
Swimmer’s ear is usually a mild infection that results from prolonged exposure to water.
While most cases are due to swimming, it can be caused by any activity that traps water in your ear.
Symptoms include pain itching and inflammation.
Treat mild swimmer’s ear at home with natural remedies that include alcohol, vinegar, heat, garlic, turmeric, essential oils, colloidal silver, onion juice, and hydrogen peroxide.
With this treatment, you can reduce symptoms and treat the infection quickly.
The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.
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