Swimmer’s ear, or acute otitis externa, is a common problem, especially in the summer. It is caused when moisture and humidity in the outer ear encourage bacteria and fungus to grow beyond normal levels and cause an infection.

Swimming, itching and flaking, as well as superficial scratches in the external ear from cotton swabs or any hard object used to clean the ear can accelerate the growth of bacteria, leading to an infection.

The first symptom of swimmer’s ear is usually itching. If the condition progresses, a person will experience severe pain in the ear and swelling of the ear canal. Lymph nodes under the ear may also swell; a low-grade fever, stopped-up feeling and hearing loss will follow.

The best treatment for swimmer’s ear is prevention. The most important preventive measure is to avoid placing cotton swabs or any hard object inside the ear.

Keeping the ear dry is also very important. After swimming or showering, use rubbing alcohol in the ear to dry the canal quickly. To do this, tilt the head so the outer ear can be pulled back and pour several drops of rubbing alcohol into the ear canal. White vinegar in the ear will also help prevent infection because it helps maintain the ear’s normal acidity. However, never use alcohol, vinegar or over-the-counter drops in the ear if there is a hole in the eardrum. Ear drops and antibiotics will usually control the infection. However, if the swelling is severe, your doctor or an ear specialist might need to pack the inner ear to allow the drops to reach deep into the ear canal.

Special advice to swimmers:

A drop or two of oil in each ear before swimming can create an insulating film in the ear canal and reduce the effect of moisture. After showering, alcohol, vinegar, a mixture of both or commercial antiseptic ear drops are recommended.

For additional information or to make an appointment, please contact River Cities Ear, Nose & Throat Specialists, P.L.L.C. at (304) 522-8800 or (800) 955-3277.


Joseph B. Touma, M.D., F.A.C.S.
Touma Ear and Balance Center
1616 13th Avenue, Suite 100
Huntington, WV 25701
304.522.8800 or 800.955.3277

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