Ear - Swimmer's
Is this your child's symptom?
- An infection or irritation of the ear canal from lots of swimming
- The ear canal is itchy or painful
- Also caused by 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.
When to Call for Ear - Swimmer's
Call Doctor or Seek Care Now
- 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
Contact 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 more than 7 days on treatment
- You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent
Contact Doctor During Office Hours
- You have other questions or concerns
Self Care at Home
- Swimmer's ear with no other problems
Seattle Children's Urgent Care Locations
If your child’s illness or injury is life-threatening, 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.
- Lake water has the greatest risk. Rinse the ear canals with tap water after any lake swimming. Do this until you can get vinegar ear drops.
- 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 health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.
Last Reviewed: 05/30/2023
Last Revised: 12/30/2022
Copyright 2000-2023. Schmitt Pediatric Guidelines LLC.