Symptoms of swimmer’s ear
- Itchy ears
- Redness inside the ear
- Swelling in the ear canal or outer ear
- Discomfort of pain (particularly if you pull on your ear)
- Feeling of fullness in the ear
- Discharge from the ear
- Discomfort or pain when you move your jaw, or while you’re eating
- Muffled hearing in the affected ear
Symptoms can be quite mild to begin with, but can get worse over time, particularly without treatment.
Causes of swimmer’s ear
Swimmer’s ear is usually caused by trapped water in the ear, which can happen after you’ve been swimming or diving, had a shower or bath, or if you’re just in humid weather. Coupled with the warm conditions of the ear canal, this is an ideal environment for bacteria to grow and cause an infection.
The infection might also be caused by a scratch in the ear canal that allows bacteria in to the break in the skin, or if you have an allergic reaction to certain products or jewellery.
Swimmer’s ear drops
Prescription ear drops are the most common treatment for swimmer’s ear. They contain medication that will help to fight the infection and calm down any swelling you have. You’ll probably need to use these a few times a day for a few days, and it’s important that you finish the bottle – even if your ear is feeling better.
Medical treatment for swimmer’s ear
Depending on the extent of your symptoms, your GP might need to clean out your ears, or try a different method in order to properly access the ear for treatment. They’ll also check on the health of your eardrum as this might affect the type of treatment they recommend.
Rarely, some people may require a stay in hospital for treatment.
Treating the condition from home
After you’ve started treatment, it’ll usually take a few days for your symptoms to clear. But while you’re waiting for treatment to kick in, there are a few things you can do to make your symptoms feel a little better.
This might include taking paracetamol or ibuprofen to manage any pain you have, avoiding using earphones or hearing aids for a few days, and keeping your ear dry and away from anything that could irritate it (like hairspray or shampoo).
How to prevent swimmer’s ear
There are a few things you can do to reduce your chances of developing swimmer’s ear. These include things like:
- Wearing ear plugs designed for swimming to keep any water out of your ear canal
- If you’re not sure how clean the water is (in lakes and rivers, for example) – steer clear
- After you’ve been swimming, tip your head to the side to let any excess water out
- Use a clean towel to dry the outside of your ears after a shower, bath, or swimming
- Never try to get earwax out yourself with your finger, cotton buds, or hairpins
Risk factors for swimmer’s ear
Swimmer’s ear can happen to anyone, but you might be at a greater risk of developing it if you:
- Are a regular swimmer
- Scratch or scrape the ear canal with your finger or with a cotton bud
- Have an existing skin condition like eczema or psoriasis
- Have excess earwax, wear hearing aids, or use a swimming cap (this can trap water in the ear)
With treatment, swimmer’s ear will usually take around a week to go away.
Any type of untreated infection carries a risk of further complications, so it’s always best to see your GP who will be able to advise you on treatment, rather than leaving it.
Swimmer’s ear is painful as the lining of the ear canal is inflamed and sometimes swollen due to the infection.