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Swimmer’s Ear – what is it and what should I do about it? By Our Student Pharmacist, Shannon Peck.

During these warm summer months, when we get a chance to avoid the Ohio rain, who doesn’t love an afternoon at the pool? However, a refreshing swim is a nice summer treat that can quickly be made miserable with a case of swimmer’s ear, so let’s talk about what swimmer’s ear is, how to prevent it from happening, and how it is treated.

Swimmer’s ear, also known as otitis externa in the setting of excess moisture, is inflammation in the outside ear canal, typically due to a bacterial infection caused by the presence of water in the ears.

The moist environment helps bacteria grow, so it is important to make sure to dry your ears after getting them wet, whether by swimming, bathing, showering, etc.

Luckily, this is an infection that is not considered contagious. Swimmer’s ear most commonly is diagnosed in adolescents (ages 7-14), but is prevalent in all age groups. There is also an increased risk in those who live in moist/humid environments, those who use cotton swabs to clean their ears or have a history of ear canal injury, and those who have a history of skin diseases like psoriasis or eczema in the ear.

Some common signs of swimmer’s ear include:

  • ear pain
  • itchiness
  • a feeling of fullness in the ear
  • redness
  • possibly some slight drainage from the ear

The most effective way to prevent swimmer’s ear is to keep your ears dry! This can be done in multiple ways:

  • Wearing earplugs while swimming.
  • Wearing a shower cap while bathing.
  • Tilting head to side to drain water from ears after getting them wet.
  • Pulling on your earlobe may help to better remove water from ear canal.
  • Using a hair dryer on ears at a low heat/cool setting.
  • NEVER use cotton swabs to clean out or dry your ears! This can risk causing more damage to the ear canal and ear drum.
  • Do not try to remove ear wax on your own! Ear wax helps to protect the ear canal from infections. If you are concerned about having earwax removed, talk to your doctor about having it done professionally.

how to get water out of ears

If you have a concern for swimmer’s ear, you should see your doctor as the only course of treatment will be antibiotic eardrops to help get rid of any bacteria causing the infection. In more severe cases, a steroid may be included in the eardrop to help with inflammation and pain. Typically, patients will experience symptom relief within 7-10 days of treatment.

Over-the-counter ear drops will not help to treat an infection, even if marketed as suitable for swimmer’s ear. These drops are used to help dry the ear canal, but will not help to manage the underlying infection. Talk with your doctor to determine if using over-the-counter drying ear drops is appropriate for you to use after swimming.

Moral of the story: keep your ears dry as best you can and talk with your doctor as soon as possible if you think you may have swimmer’s ear or any other ear infection.

Enjoy the rest of your summer and happy swimming!


Medina-Blasini Y, Sharman T. Otitis Externa. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; February 12, 2023.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556055/

Rosenfeld RM, Schwartz SR, Cannon CR, et al. Clinical practice guideline: acute otitis externa [published correction appears in Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2014 Mar;150(3):504] [published correction appears in Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2014 Mar;150(3):504]. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2014;150(1 Suppl):S1-S24. doi:10.1177/0194599813517083

Ear Infections. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 Apr. 2022, www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/swimmers/rwi/ear-infections.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fhealthywater%2Fswimming%2Frwi%2Fillnesses%2Fswimmers-ear-prevention-guidelines.html.


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