How Do You Get Swimmer’s Ear? Treatments & Prevention Measures!


If you’ve ever felt itching, tenderness, fullness in the ear, or even hearing loss after being underwater, you may have experienced swimmer’s ear. This common infection occurs on the outer ear canal, which runs from your eardrum up to the top of your head.

It’s a very uncomfortable experience, but fortunately, it can be treated.

So what causes swimmer’s ear?

Here are some common causes of swimmer’s ear:

  • Moisture in the ear canal, fostering bacterial growth
  • Exposure to contaminated water
  • Damage to the ear canal that creates an opening for infection

(Source)

We’ll go over the ways you can get swimmer’s ear and how to cure it.

Can You Get Swimmer’s Ear without Swimming?

Yes, you can get swimmer’s ear without swimming. While it’s most common for people who spend a lot of time submerged in water (hence “swimmer’s” ear), it can happen whenever water or moisture gets trapped in the ear canal. (Source).

Here are some ways you can get swimmer’s ear, without swimming:

  • Taking a long shower
  • Submerging your head during a bath
  • Washing your hair
  • Being in a hot, humid environment
  • Excessive ear cleaning
  • Something getting stuck in ear
  • Certain chemicals (like hair spray or hair dye)

The infection is typically caused by bacteria that thrive in these moist environments.

It’s important to thoroughly dry your ears and make sure there isn’t any water stuck inside them. You can tilt your head and pull on your earlobes to help get any water out.

Is Swimmer’s Ear Contagious ?

Swimmers ear does not spread from person to person. If you swam with someone who had swimmer’s ear and then you also got infected, it’s more likely due to germs found in the pool. It tends to be more common in children, but it can happen to anyone at any age. (Source)

How Did I Get Swimmer’s Ear?

It can be difficult to pinpoint exactly how you got swimmer’s ear, but there are things you can do to mitigate the risk in the future. For example, it’s important to maintain clean and healthy ears. This means not trying to remove all of that important, protective wax. This means avoiding the use of cotton swabs or other materials that may damage your ear. Not only is the wax an important protective layer, but damage to the ear canal can also lead to an opening for infection.

If you haven’t been swimming, your swimmer’s ear was likely caused by damage to the ear canal (where an infection can easily get in) or by being in a hot, moist environment. This can include showers, baths, hot tubs, or wet saunas. People with skin conditions like eczema are also more likely to suffer from swimmer’s ear (Source).

Regardless of how you got the infection, the treatment process and recovery will be the same. However, it can help to narrow down what may have caused it so you can try to avoid doing similar things in the future.

Will Swimmer’s Ear Go Away by Itself?

Mild cases of swimmer’s ear may resolve themselves on their own, but most people find the experience so uncomfortable that they’ll seek medical attention to treat the symptoms. (Source)

It can also be important to get treatment in order to prevent the infection from spreading further. While this can be rare, it can be very dangerous, ultimately spreading to your brain or skull. (Source)

How Do You Fix Swimmer’s Ear?

Most cases of swimmer’s ear will be treated by medicated ear drops. These will often include the following ingredients (Source):

  • Acidic solution – this helps to restore your ear’s natural antibacterial environment
  • Steroid – to reduce inflammation and swelling
  • Antibiotic – this will fight the bacteria
  • Antifungal medication – to fight an fungus that may have caused the bacteria

The exact dose and combination of ingredients will depend on the severity of your swimmer’s ear and what is needed to fix it.

Ear drops can be an unpleasant experience, especially for younger children, so it can help to ask your doctor about ways to make the process go more smoothly.

Here are a few options, per the Mayo Clinic:

  • Hold the bottle in your hand for a few moments to warm up the drops. This can be far more comfortable than the feeling of cold drops entering your ear canal as the warmer temperature will be closer to your body temperature.
  • Lie down on your side with the infected ear pointing up and insert the drops that way. Not only is this a more comfortable position to be in while using the drops, it will also give the medication more time to work its way down the ear canal. You can lie in this position for a few minutes to really make sure it’s gone the distance.
  • If possible, get someone to assist you in administering the ear drops. This will make sure you aren’t inadvertently missing your ear and wasting medication.
  • Pull the ear up and back to provide a better space to drop the medication.

If your infection is not responding to drop medication, you may be prescribed oral antibiotics to help cure it. A very severe infection that includes swelling will need to be handled by a doctor who can utilize different techniques to fix the problem.

Also, here is a video for more on this topic,

Things to Keep in Mind

Swimmer’s ear is an unpleasant but overall mild condition that is easy to fix with medication.

Practicing good ear hygiene can help prevent future infections, but don’t hesitate to see a doctor if you have any concerns.

Aprill Emig

Based out of Duluth, MN Aprill loves to write about the outdoors, education, and all forms of adventure. You can find her mountain biking, running, or playing roller derby.

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