Boy in swim goggles in the pool

Summer means fun in the cool water, but that can quickly fade if you bring home some of that water – trapped in your ear. Here are ways to stay clear of swimmer’s ear.

Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the outer ear canal. Symptoms of swimmer’s ear usually appear within a few days of swimming and include:

  • Itchiness inside the ear.
  • Redness and swelling of the ear.
  • Pain when the infected ear is tugged or when pressure is placed on the ear.
  • Pus draining from the infected ear.
  • Sound is muffled. 

How is swimmer’s ear spread in the places we swim?

Luckily swimmer’s ear cannot spread from person to person. It develops when water stays in the ear canal for long periods of time, allowing for germs to grow and infect the skin.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a long day at the pool or a quick dip in the lake, any time there’s moisture in the ear canal for a period of time, bacteria can form. 

Is there a difference between a childhood middle ear infection and swimmer’s ear?

Swimmer’s ear is not the same as the common childhood middle ear infection. If you can wiggle the outer ear without pain or discomfort then your ear condition is probably not swimmer’s ear. 

Five tips to protect your family from swimmer’s ear:

  1. Wear earplugs when swimming. Ear plugs block excess water from entering the ear and decrease risk of infection.
  2. Use ear drops. You can buy ear drops that help prevent swimmer’s ear.
  3. Teach your child to dry their ears, especially after swimming. It also helps to tilt his head to each side while gently pulling the ear lobe down. This opens the ear canal so water can drain out.
  4. Ear wax is ok. Don’t aggressively clean your ears with cotton swabs. Ear wax helps protect your ear canal from infection and it repels water. Too much ear wax can trap water, however. Talk to your doctor about excessive ear wax.
  5. Limit outdoor use of large headphones. The hot, humid environment they create in the ear canal can promote bacterial growth. Earbuds pose less of a risk, as long as kids aren’t sharing them.