preventing swimmer's ear

Swimmers may sometimes have to deal with a painful infection in the outer part of the ear. Otitis externa hurts when you wiggle the ear. Usually the problem can be traced to fungi or bacteria proliferating in a damp, warm, dark area–the ear after swimming. Elsewhere, we have suggested preventing swimmer’s ear with ear drops, including home-made ear drops containing alcohol and vinegar. One reader with a lot of experience has quite a different suggestion. In fact, he took us to task for our recommendation.

A Better Approach to Preventing Swimmer’s Ear:

Q. As a former competitive swimmer who continues to log several miles in the pool each week, I’m familiar with swimmer’s ear and the treatments for it. None of the nonprescription solutions you have described is ideal for a couple of reasons.

First, putting alcohol or vinegar into an inflamed ear can be excruciatingly painful. Second, adding more liquid to existing wetness doesn’t solve the problem but can actually exacerbate it—particularly if long hair covers the ears, preventing them from ever fully drying out.

Drying the Ears with a Hairdryer:

The true remedy is simple: dry the external canal with a thin terrycloth towel, then use a hairdryer on a cool setting to dry the ear completely. This strategy for preventing swimmer’s ear works on people AND on long-eared dogs like my Labrador who swim and are vulnerable to ear infections.

A. Thank you for sharing your experience. We appreciate that long-distance swimmers and dogs with floppy ears may require the drying strategy you suggest.

We are somewhat concerned about people blowing air directly into their ears, however. Someone who isn’t careful might leave the setting on hot and do some damage to this delicate tissue.

Experts Recommend Drops for Preventing Swimmer’s Ear:

On the other hand, for the average person who may spend far less time with their ears under water, the alcohol and vinegar solution may be helpful. After all, the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery recommends this approach to prevent swimmer’s ear.

Share your own experience preventing swimmer’s ear in the comment section below.

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  1. Nancy L

    Recently, I too had problems with water in my ear that caused so much itching and discomfort.

    I tried products to put around the ear to ease the irritation and even had a doctor remove the was.

    Finally, I tried the hair dryer approach. Voila! Ear dry and discomfort gone!

  2. Ariel

    My new ENT’s solution. After none of this worked well for me. And after 5 ENT’s. I found one that got it!!

    He suggested MACK’S EAR DRYER. It is not in stores just online. I am now NOT going to doctors with yeast and fluid in my ears!

    Just one suggestion. If you get this product, it is better to get a battery charger as the charge does not last long.

    Just keep using the dryer for as long as it feels right, to get the dryness out.

  3. Peggy

    I have learned that lack of ear wax led to this condition for me. So the first recommendation was to stop using Q tips. The second recommendation was the drops.

    My preference would have been to continue to use the Q tips to dry my ear and then apply something in place of the ear wax I removed. I have tried Neosporin, coconut oil, and a variety of lotions.

    All to no avail, which is why I finally asked the doctor and was given the drop recipe. However, I don’t like how my ears feel after a shower without the Q tips drying them…

    Any suggestions? Thanks!

  4. Dov
    New Jersey

    I have a much better and simpler way to avoid Swimmer’s Ear – wear earplugs!

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