Home » Health & Safety Channel » Preventing Swimmer's Ear

From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Preventing Swimmer's Ear

Simple prevention tips parents can teach their kids.

Swimmer's ear (also known as otitis externa) is an infection of the outer ear canal that can cause pain and discomfort for swimmers of all ages. Swimmer's ear affects millions of Americans every year and results in hundreds of millions of dollars in health care costs.

The good news is that there are a few simple steps that swimmers, and you as a parent, can take to prevent swimmer's ear. Girl under water in pool

To help ensure a healthy and pain-free swimming experience, follow - and/or teach your kids to follow - these tips:

  • DO keep your ears as dry as possible.
    • Use a bathing cap, ear plugs, or custom-fitted swim molds when swimming to keep water out of ears.
  • DO dry your ears thoroughly after swimming or showering.
    • Use a towel to dry your ears well.
    • Tilt your head to hold each ear facing down to allow water to escape the ear canal.
    • Pull your earlobe in different directions while the ear is faced down to help water drain out.
    • If there is still water left in ears, consider using a hair dryer to move air within the ear canal.
    • Be sure the hair dryer is on the lowest heat and speed/fan setting.
    • Hold the hair dryer several inches from the ear.
  • DON'T put objects in the ear canal (including cotton-tip swabs, pencils, paperclips, or fingers).
  • DON'T try to remove ear wax. Ear wax helps protect your ear canal from infection.
    • If you think that your child's ear canal is blocked by ear wax, consult his or her pediatrician rather than trying to remove it yourself.
  • CONSULT your child's pediatrician about using commercial, alcohol-based ear drops or a 1:1 mixture of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar after swimming.
    • Drops should not be used by people with ear tubes, damaged ear drums, outer ear infection, or ear drainage (pus or liquid coming from the ear).
  • CONSULT your child's pediatrician if her ears are itchy, flaky, swollen, or painful, or if she has drainage from her ears.
  • ASK your pool/hot tub operator if disinfectant and pH levels are checked at least twice per day-hot tubs and pools with proper disinfectant and pH levels are less likely to spread germs.
  • USE pool test strips to check the pool or hot tub yourself for adequate disinfectant and pH levels.

For more tips on what you can do to help prevent RWIs at your swimming facility, click here.

For more information on ear infections, please see CDC's Get Smart: Ear Infections page.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Posted May 19, 2011