Should Your Child See a Doctor?
Ear - Swimmer's
Is this your child's symptom?
- 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
Symptoms of Swimmer's Ear
- Starts with an itchy ear canal
- Ear canal can become painful
- Pain gets worse when you press on the tragus. The tragus is the tab of tissue in front of the ear.
- The ear feels plugged or full
- Ear discharge may start as the swimmer's ear gets worse
- No cold symptoms or fever
Cause of Swimmer's Ear
- Water gets trapped in the ear canal. Then, 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 for Ear - Swimmer's
Call Doctor Now or Go to ER
- Severe ear pain and not improved after using care advice
- Redness and swelling of outer ear
- Fever over 104° F (40° C)
- Your child looks or acts very sick
- You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent
Call Doctor Within 24 Hours
- Yellow discharge or pus from ear canal
- Blocked ear canal
- Swollen lymph node near ear
- You are not sure that ear pain is caused by swimmer's ear
- Ear symptoms last over 7 days on treatment
- You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent
Call Doctor During Office Hours
- You have other questions or concerns
Self Care at Home
- Swimmer's ear with no complications
Estimated Urgent Care Wait Times
These are estimated wait times for each Urgent Care clinic. Wait times are typically longest during the first hour we are open and may not be reflected immediately in the online wait time. Traffic and wait times may be affected by local events or bridge closures. Please check current traffic conditions and advisory alerts on the Seattle Department of Transportation website.
Wait times may also vary depending on the severity of the illnesses we are treating. If your child’s illness or injury is life-threating, call 911.
Care Advice for Mild Swimmer's Ear
- What You Should Know About Swimmer's Ear:
- 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 an acetaminophen product such as Tylenol.
- Another choice is an ibuprofen product such as Advil.
- Use as needed.
- Heat For Pain:
- 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. Repeat as needed.
- 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 Swimmer's Ear:
- 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
- You think your child needs to be seen
- Your child becomes worse
And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.
Last Reviewed: 09/01/2012
Last Revised: 09/01/2012
Copyright 1994-2015 Barton D. Schmitt, MD. All rights reserved.