Tips & Tricks for Swimmer's Ear

2013 May | By


The dreaded swimmer’s ear: Almost every swimmer gets it. It’s painful, it’s frustrating, and it can even keep you out of the water for a while. So – what should you do about it? Read on to find out how to prevent and treat it, as well as what you should not do.

What Is Swimmer’s Ear?

Swimmer’s ear is a painful ear infection caused by lingering water in the ear canal. When the water is stagnant and isn’t removed from the ear canal, bacteria can grow and can cause irritation and inflammation. Ouch! The longer it goes untreated, the more painful it can get. It throbs and aches, and oftentimes wearing a swim cap over your ear can really hurt. If you gently tug on or touch your outer ear, it’ll feel tender.

How to Prevent It

As soon as you get out of the pool, you might feel water sloshing around deep in your ear. Get that water out! Even if you don’t feel it in there, try these techniques to remove it. When it’s really deep, you might not even feel it.

1) Tilt & Jump

One way to remove water is to tilt your head to the side and jump up and down until you feel the water trickle out. If you feel water go into your ear during practice, you can use this technique in the water, too. Between sets, jump up and down in shallow water with your head cocked to the side. It’s a good idea to do this during practice before it trickles deeper into the canal.

2) Crouch & Shake

A similar -- yet more aggressive -- technique is to bend your knees, lean over to the side, and vigorously shake your head. Tilt your head really far as you do it. Shake your head in quick, snapping motions. Just be careful not to hurt your neck!

3) Lie Down

If it’s still not coming out, lie on a bed or couch with your water-logged ear facing downward. I find it’s best if your pillow isn’t too fluffy. This can tilt your forehead slightly upward, which keeps the water trapped in your ear. Instead, you want your forehead level with your chin.Try moving your head around to get the right angle. Lying like this can take awhile to get the water out, so its best to do this around bedtime or when you’re relaxing.

4) Use Ear Drops

It’s also great idea to put a solution in the ear canal to dry up any excess, stubborn water. There are drops that you can buy to for this. These are easy to use, since they come in a bottle made for putting drops in your ears.

If you don’t have any on-hand, you can mix 3 parts rubbing alcohol to 1 part vinegar. Take a cotton swab and soak up some of the mixture with it (or if you have one, you can use a dropper). Then lie down on a bed or couch. Make sure your head is level, and squeeze a few drops from the cotton swab over your ear. You should feel the liquid drip into your ear canal. This will be a very unpleasant sensation! Still, it’s better than an infected, throbbing ear.

5) Dry It Out

Although I’ve never tried it, I know of other swimmers that have used a hairdryer on the lowest setting on their ears. I’m not sure how well it works, but it might be worth giving it a shot. Just be careful not to burn your ear! There are also devices meant for drying your ear, like the Mack’s Ear Dryer.

6) Wear Earplugs

Earplugs can help prevent swimmer’s ear if they fit correctly. Poorly fitting or hard earplugs can scratch your ear, making you prone to infection. Softer earplugs that mold to your ear shape can help prevent water from entering the ear. If you use this kind, make sure to dry them properly. Otherwise they can collect bacteria that leads to swimmer’s ear.

7) How to Get Rid of It

If you already have swimmer’s ear, see a doctor. They can prescribe medicated ear drops to get rid of both the water and bacteria in your ear. Sometimes using over-the-counter drops or a mixture of vinegar and rubbing alcohol can clear it up. If it has progressed, though, you may need medicated drops. The earlier you catch and treat it, the faster it’ll go away. To help cope with the pain, take a pain reliever / anti-inflammatory.

8) What NOT to do

Do not stick any q-tips or scrape inside your ear when you have swimmer’s ear. It will probably be painful enough that you won’t want to, but doing so can drastically increase the infection.

Don’t just swim through the pain; Take a break from swimming. Many swimmers ignore their doctor’s instructions to stay out of the pool (anywhere from a few days to 2 weeks) and end up fine. But being exposed to pool water when your ear is already irritated can prolong the infection and/or make it worse.

9) Friendly Workouts

If you are in the peak of your season and you can’t afford to take a break from swimming, do some kicking sets with a kickboard. Make sure to keep your infected ear dry and out of the water. For ideas on other drills to do without submerging your ear, look into water polo drills and warm up sets. Many of these entail sculling, treading water, vertical kicking, and pendulums. There are plenty of valuable dry land exercises that you can do as well.

10) Don’t Stress

Sticking to a good regimen after practice can help prevent swimmer’s ear. Just remain diligent about it and you can avoid this painful infection altogether. If you do get it, don’t stress! Just take action right away and you’ll start feeling better in no time.

Links to products: Earplugs, ear drops, ear dryer, kickboard, dry land equipment

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