How to Prevent Swimmer's Ear | News | Loyola Medicine
Thursday, July 30, 2015

Best treatment for swimmer’s ear is prevention

Loyola family medicine physician shares advice on dealing with swimmer’s ear

MAYWOOD, IL – There is nothing more refreshing than hopping into a cool pool on a hot summer day.  But this relaxing summer activity can quickly become a real pain if you develop swimmer’s ear.

“Swimmer’s ear is an infection and inflammation of the ear canal and can be extremely painful. It is caused by moisture being trapped in the ear canal creating the perfect conditions for bacteria to grow,” said Aaron Michelfelder, MD, family medicine physician at Loyola Medicine and professor in the Department of Family Medicine at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

 Though commonly called swimmer’s ear, according to Dr. Michelfelder a person can have this painful condition even if he or she doesn’t swim. Other factors for developing swimmer’s ear include:

  • Living in a humid climate
  • Allowing water to run into ears while showering
  • Sitting in steam rooms

“Though you can treat this with ear drops it’s best to be proactive and try to prevent it,” said Dr. Michelfelder.

He offers some tips to help prevent swimmer’s ear.

  1. Use silicone ear plugs that completely cover the outer ear to avoid the ear canal getting wet
  2. Keep cotton swabs fingers and other objects out of the ear as this can destroy the fragile skin that protects it
  3. If you don’t use ear plugs dry your ears with a hair dryer on the low setting after swimming or showering

“There are over the counter ear drops available that help prevent swimmer’s ear, but I found my old diving coach’s recipe to work just as well if not better,” said Dr. Michelfelder.

He says to combine:

  • 1/3 white vinegar
  • 1/3 hydrogen peroxide
  • 1/3 rubbing alcohol

“Put a few drops in your ear right after swimming. The hydrogen peroxide is an antibacterial/antifungal and the rubbing alcohol helps to dry the ear. The even parts dilutes the mixture so no one component is too strong,” Dr. Michelfelder said.

Swimmer’s ear often is confused with an ear infection, but they affect different parts of the ear. According to Dr. Michelfelder an ear infection is behind the ear drum where swimmer’s ear is an infection of the ear canal.

“Swimmer’s ear and ear infections have similar symptoms, both hurt and can cause discharge. A good distinguishing factor is a fever. If you have a fever, it’s an ear infection,” Dr. Michelfelder said. “If you have any concerns go see your doctor and if you have discharge be sure to not stick anything in your ear, including your finger as it can cause damage.”

According to Dr. Michelfelder, see a doctor if:

  • Pain doesn’t go away in a day or two
  • Have a change in hearing
  • See discharge or blood coming from the ear
  • Have a fever over 100 degrees Fahrenheit

If you do have swimmer’s ear Michelfelder says to avoid swimming for five weeks and cover ears when showering.

“The key really is prevention. Swimming is a great way to get exercise and enjoy your summer. Just think ahead before jumping in the pool and you won’t miss out on the fun,” Dr. Michelfelder said.

About Loyola Medicine and Trinity Health

Loyola Medicine, a member of Trinity Health, is a quaternary care system based in the western suburbs of Chicago that includes Loyola University Medical Center (LUMC), Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, MacNeal Hospital and convenient locations offering primary and specialty care services from 1,877 physicians throughout Cook, Will and DuPage counties. LUMC is a 547-licensed-bed hospital in Maywood that includes the William G. and Mary A. Ryan Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine, the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, a Level 1 trauma center, Illinois's largest burn center, a certified comprehensive stroke center and a children’s hospital. Having delivered compassionate care for over 50 years, Loyola also trains the next generation of caregivers through its teaching affiliation with Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine and Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing. Gottlieb is a 247-licensed-bed community hospital in Melrose Park with 150 physician offices, an adult day care program, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park. MacNeal Hospital is a 374-bed teaching hospital in Berwyn with advanced inpatient and outpatient medical, surgical and psychiatric services, advanced diagnostics and treatments. MacNeal has a 12-bed acute rehabilitation unit, a 25-bed inpatient skilled nursing facility, and a 68-bed behavioral health program and community clinics. MacNeal has provided quality, patient-centered care to the near west suburbs since 1919.

Trinity Health is one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic healthcare systems in the nation, serving diverse communities that include more than 30 million people across 22 states. Trinity Health includes 94 hospitals, as well as 109 continuing care locations that include PACE programs, senior living facilities and home care and hospice services. Its continuing care programs provide nearly 2.5 million visits annually. Based in Livonia, Mich., and with annual operating revenues of $18.3 billion and assets of $26.2 billion, the organization returns $1.1 billion to its communities annually in the form of charity care and other community benefit programs. Trinity employs about 133,000 colleagues, including 7,800 employed physicians and clinicians. Committed to those who are poor and underserved in its communities, Trinity is known for its focus on the country's aging population. As a single, unified ministry, the organization is the innovator of Senior Emergency Departments, the largest not-for-profit provider of home health care services—ranked by number of visits—in the nation, as well as the nation’s leading provider of PACE (Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly) based on the number of available programs.