Whether you swim for fitness, for fun, or just get splashed repeatedly in the face by little kids in the pool while yelling at your own to stop splashing others—if you’re using a public pool, there’s always the chance you could get swimmer’s ear.
I remember getting swimmer’s ear several times during childhood from spending long summer days pretending to be a mermaid at our local pool. I admit that now at 36 years old, I still pretend to swim like Ariel underwater. Because of the pain I endured from swimmer’s ear as a kid, using alcohol-glycerin ear drops after every swim became a habit that I carried into adulthood. I always had drops in my bag whether they were meant for me after swimming laps, or for the kids. Even with using the drops, getting swimmer’s ear is still a risk if you use a public pool, contaminated private pool or hot tub, or a lake with high bacteria levels.
What is swimmer’s ear?
Swimmer’s ear (also known as acute otitis externa) is an ear infection that occurs when the body’s defenses are down, or the ear canal otherwise becomes compromised or otherwise habitable for certain waterborne bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms to propagate. It’s not the same as otitis media, or the common middle ear infection that affects young children, or other types of ear infections, because it mostly affects the outer ear. Its symptoms are redness, pain (sometimes severe acute pain that spreads to the face, neck, even throat), throbbing, drainage, itching inside and outside the ear, swelling, and oh yeah did I say PAIN? It hurts and no other ear infection feels like that.
Who is likely to get swimmer’s ear?
While swimmer’s ear is most common in children and teens, anyone swimming or bathing in contaminated water can get it. Irritation inside the ear canal caused by certain hairstyling products, excess usage of cotton swabs to remove wax, and frequent usage of headphones and ear buds increase the risk.
As a practitioner of holistic skincare, I also found it interesting that according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, people with the skin conditions eczema and seborrhea are also more likely to get swimmer’s ear.
How do you get rid of swimmer’s ear?
It is very important to address any pain or inflammation of the ear by having it checked out by a qualified health professional. Untreated ear infections of any kind can develop into more serious conditions which can negatively affect hearing, as well as spread and cause further infection or permanent damage to the neighboring cartilage and tissue. Most conventional physicians treat this condition with antibiotic ear drops, but if the cause of the infection is viral or fungal, this won’t work. Improper use of antibiotics comes with its own risks as well, as they kill the body’s friendly bacteria and microflora as well as harmful strains. For these reasons, I choose to treat this condition (and most others) holistically, using natural remedies and essential oils.
Unfortunately, I recently had the opportunity to put this to the test. Our pool season has begun, and I really enjoy being in the water with my kids. I get my mermaid time in during kid swim and I get my lap time in during “adult swim” at the top of every hour. And this past week, for the first time since I was a child, I got swimmer’s ear. I was so bummed! I knew that’s what I had because I’ve had it before and knew the feeling immediately. I wasn’t surprised either, because I’ve been using my headphones and ear buds more lately than ever before, plus I’ve had my hair done for various special occasions and photo shoots several times in the past month so I’m sure some hairspray got inside.
I began researching holistic remedies and the one I saw the most was a 1 to 1 equal part solution of isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol and vinegar (white or raw apple cider vinegar are fine). I chose the ACV because I know it’s very effective for other types of fungal infections. I saturated a cotton ball with this mixture and dripped a few drops into the affected ear (my left) several times a day.
Do ear plugs prevent swimmer’s ear?
While wearing ear plugs might keep the majority of the water out of the ears, they won’t keep harmful microorganisms from entering the body. They also might cause irritation to the inside of the ear which could increase the risk of infection.
To prevent swimmer’s ear, I recommend using the drying drops (alcohol/glycerin blend available over-the-counter) after swimming and bathing. I also recommend being extra gentle with the ears by protecting them from irritant products and also using care with headphones and ear buds. I also recommend making sure you keep your body’s natural defenses up by getting enough sleep at night, and also by adding more probiotic-rich fermented foods to your healthy, balanced diet.