Is your ear ever tender or itchy after a day at the pool? You may have swimmer’s ear an infection of the outer ear canal. Water trapped inside the ear causes a moist environment allowing bacteria to grow. Water and bacteria in the ear result in irritation, inflammation, or infection.

Even if your swimmer’s ear symptoms are mild, seek medical attention as unattended swimmer’s ear can result in pain and symptoms worsening. While swimmer’s ear is uncomfortable, it is not contagious. Typical symptoms of swimmer’s ear include:

  • Itching inside the ear canal
  • Slight redness inside the ear
  • Drainage of colorless fluid
  • Mild discomfort worsened by pulling on the outer ear.
  • Feeling of fullness inside the ear
  • Muffled or diminished hearing
  • Fever in severe cases

Swimmer’s ear is easily treated by ear drops prescribed by a doctor. Antibiotics may be used in severe cases to help fight infection. Gently and safely cleaning the ear and applying ear drops are recommended if swimmer’s ear is in the beginning stage. Do not use a cotton swab or anything else sharp to clean out the ear canal. These objects may cause cuts or scrapes to the inside of the ear and may lead to further damage of the ear canal.

The good news is that swimmer’s ear is preventable. Try these 7 tips to prevent swimmer’s ear!

Keep ears dry: After swimming or bathing make sure to dry out your ears. Use a washcloth to wipe the outside of the ear. Tilt head to the side to help trapped water leave the ear canal. If water remains, a blow dryer may be used on the lowest setting and held a foot away from the ear.

Use ear plugs when swimming: Ear plugs may be worn to keep out water while swimming. Ear plugs made from moldable silicone, silicone and soft plastics are best for swimming. However, if you are allergic to silicone, be sure that the brand you purchase is silicone free. There are three types of ear plugs. Flanged: Are a universal fit, conical shape that acts as a barrier against water. Ergonomic: Are pre- shaped to fit comfortably and snugly into the ear and are designed to lay flat against the outer ear. Moldable: Are made from moldable putty that is inserted and shaped into the ear to prevent eater from entering.

Wear a swim cap: A latex or silicone swim cap may be used to help the prevention of water inside the ear. For extra protection, wear the swim cap pulled down over your ears and ear plugs as a second form of protection against incoming water.

Preventive treatment at home: At home you can make a mixture of 1 part white vinegar and 1 part rubbing alcohol that will help promote drying of the inside of the ear. This mixture will also help prevent bacteria from growing inside the ear canal. Apply the mixture and allow liquid to travel all the way into the ear canal, before tilting your head and letting it drain back out.

Protect ears from irritants: Products like hair spray and hair dyes can be damaging to the ear. To avoid infection, put cotton balls inside the ear whenever using a harmful product. When bathing, a cotton ball coated with petroleum jelly will help to keep excess water from getting inside the ear canal.

Be mindful of where you are swimming: Do not swim in areas that have high bacterial counts as this can lead to infection. If you do swim in untreated water such as lakes, rivers, or the ocean be sure to dry out the ears after every swim.

Ask a doctor: If you recently had an ear infection or surgery, talk with a doctor before returning to the water. Be sure to give your ears plenty of time to heal if recovering.

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