Many of us have experienced a painful swimmer’s ear infection before, especially during childhood. If you or your child has this type of outer ear infection now, you may be wondering what you can do to stop the acute pain, tenderness, and swelling.
The good news is that swimmer’s ear can usually be treated relatively easily with prescription ear drops, and it typically clears up within a few days once you start treatment. It’s usually not an emergency medical situation, meaning that you can make an appointment with your regular doctor rather than going to an urgent care facility. While waiting for your appointment, you can try certain home remedies to manage pain.
Swimmer’s Ear Diagram
OTC Anti-inflammatory Drugs
Because swimmer’s ear often causes painful swelling of the outer ear canal, you may want to take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, to help reduce swelling while you are waiting for your doctor’s appointment.
Heat can also help reduce inflammation, so if you don’t want to use anti-inflammatory drugs, you can try wrapping a heat pad in a towel and holding it up to the infected ear for several minutes at a time. This may offer some mild pain relief.
White Vinegar Mixture
The acid in vinegar can help restore your ear’s normal antibacterial environment, but you shouldn’t pour pure vinegar in your ear, as this is too acidic. Instead, mix white vinegar with equal parts water or rubbing alcohol. Lie on your side with your infected ear facing up, and have a friend or family member pour the mixture into your ear. Leave the mixture in for about five minutes, and then turn your head and drain the mixture into a bowl or basin. Don’t try this remedy if you have a hole in your ear drum or have ear tubes inserted.
While home remedies can provide some relief, you should ultimately see your doctor about a swimmer’s ear infection, as it will likely take a prescription medication to clear the infection completely. Your doctor may also need to use a suction device to clear any discharge, earwax, or dead skin from your ear canal so that your prescription ear drops can reach the infected areas.
Acidic solutions, such as salicylic acid or hydrochloric acid, work the same way as the white vinegar mixture mentioned above to restore your ear’s normal antibacterial environment. Your doctor may prescribe this type of medication along with an antibiotic.
Your doctor will likely prescribe an antibiotic or antifungal medication, depending on whether your ear infection is caused by bacteria or fungi. If your doctor does prescribe antibiotic or antifungal ear drops, be sure to use the medication for the entire prescribed length of time, even if your swimmer’s ear symptoms seem to go away before then. Stopping your treatment too soon may allow your ear infection to return.
Most of the medications commonly prescribed for swimmer’s ear are actually combination drugs containing an acidic solution, steroid, and antibiotic. Combination medications your doctor might prescribe include Cortisporin Otic, Tobradex, Cipro HC Otic, and Pred-G.
Remember: it’s better to make an appointment with your doctor than to take a “wait and see” approach when you or your child has swimmer’s ear. While medication can usually take care of the problem quickly, leaving the condition untreated can lead to painful complications. For more information about ear infections and other ear conditions visit our Ear Conditions Page.