Ear - Swimmer's


  • An infection or irritation of the skin that lines the ear canal
  • The ear canal is itchy or painful
  • Caused by lots of swimming or using cotton swabs


  • Starts with an itchy ear canal
  • Ear canal can become painful
  • Pain gets worse when the ear is moved up and down
  • The ear feels plugged or full
  • Ear discharge may start as the swimmer's ear gets worse
  • No cold symptoms or fever


  • When water gets trapped in the ear canal, the lining becomes wet and swollen.
  • This makes it prone to an infection with germs (swimmer's ear).
  • Wax buildup also traps water behind it. Most often, this is caused by cotton swabs.
  • Ear canals were meant to be dry.

Return to School

  • Swimmer's ear cannot be spread to others.  No need to miss any school or child care.

When to Call Us for Ear - Swimmer's

Call Us Now (night or day) If

  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • Severe ear pain and not improved after using care advice
  • Redness and swelling of outer ear
  • Fever over 104° F (40° C)
  • You think your child needs to be seen urgently

Call Us During Weekday Office Hours If

  • You have other questions or concerns

Parent Care at Home If

  • Swimmer's ear with no complications


What You Should Know:
  • Swimmer's ear is a mild infection of the ear canal.
  • It's caused by water getting trapped in the ear canal. Ear canals were meant to be dry.
  • Here is some care advice that should help.
White Vinegar Rinses:
  • Rinse the ear canals with half-strength white vinegar. Mix vinegar with equal parts warm water. (Exception: ear tubes or hole in eardrum.)
  • Start by having your child lie down with the painful ear upward.
  • Fill the ear canal.
  • Wait 5 minutes. Then, turn your child's head to the side and move the ear. This will remove the vinegar rinse.
  • Do the other side.
  • Continue twice a day until the ear canal returns to normal.
  • Reason: Restores the normal acid pH of the ear canal and lessens swelling.
Pain Medicine:
  • To help with the pain, give acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen. Use as needed. See Dose Table.
Heat Pack:
  • If pain is moderate to severe, use a heating pad (set on low). You can also use a warm wet cloth to outer ear. Do this for 20 minutes. (Caution: Avoid burns). This will also increase drainage.
Reduce Swimming Times:
  • Try not to swim until symptoms are gone.
  • If on a swim team, it's usually okay to continue.
  • Swimming may slow your child's recovery, but causes no serious harm.
Return to School:
  • Swimmer's ear cannot be spread to others.
What to Expect:
  • With treatment, symptoms should be better in 3 days.
  • They should be gone in 7 days.
Prevention of Symptoms:
  • Try to keep the ear canals dry.
  • After showers, hair washing, or swimming, help the water run out of ears. Do this by turning the head.
  • Do not use cotton swabs. Reason: Packs in the earwax. The wax buildup then traps water behind it.
  • If swimmer's ear is a frequent problem, rinse the ear canals after swimming. Use a few drops of a white vinegar-rubbing alcohol rinse. Use equal parts of each to make the rinse.
Call Your Doctor If:
  • Ear pain becomes severe
  • Ear symptoms last over 7 days on treatment
  • Your child becomes worse

And remember, contact us if your child develops any of the "Call Us" symptoms.

Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

Copyright 1994-2013 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.