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Ear - Swimmer's - Allied Physicians Group - Pediatric Medicine
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  • 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 Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If:

    • You think your child needs to be seen, but not urgently
    • Yellow discharge or pus from ear canal
    • Fever
    • 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

    Call Us During Weekday Office Hours If:

    • You have other questions or concerns

    Parent Care at Home If:

    • Swimmer’s ear with no complications

    Care Advice for Ear – Swimmer’s

    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

    Disclaimer: This information is not intended 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.

    Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.
    Copyright 1994-2013 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

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