Q. When I was training for triathlons I was told to mix a solution of alcohol, vinegar and glycerin in a squirt bottle. After swimming I would shake the bottle and apply a few drops in each ear, letting it sit for a moment or two, then tilting my head to allow the mixture to run out onto a paper towel.
I found that the exact proportions varied from one recipe to another, so I used about 45 percent alcohol, 45 percent vinegar and 10 percent glycerin. You can get glycerin at most pharmacies.
The alcohol helps dry the ear canal, the vinegar discourages bacterial growth and the glycerin helps moisturize the skin. I believe glycerin absorbs water from the air so it may also have a drying effect. I had no trouble with swimmer’s ear when I used this remedy.
A. Over the counter products to prevent swimmer’s ear include Auro-Dri and Swim-Ear. They both contain 95 percent isopropyl alcohol and 5 percent anhydrous glycerin.
The Mayo Clinic suggests a mixture of equal parts white vinegar and rubbing alcohol to be applied to the ears before and after swimming. Its ear experts recommend pouring in about 5 ml and letting it drain out.
Swimmer’s ear occurs when dampness in the ear canal allows bacteria to thrive. Moving the ear causes pain when the infection is in the ear canal, as compared to a steady earache that does not change when the ear is wiggled. That type of pain is more suggestive of otitis media and might need medical attention.
Thanks for sharing your tip on prevention. Another reader offered this: “I had many bouts of swimmer’s ear as a child. After seeing specialists and enduring a lot of pain, the family doctor suggested putting a dropper full of vodka in each ear after every swim. I never had another infection and continue to use this remedy 50 years later.”