Every year, when the summer months come around and the city pools become overrun with thousands of summer-league swimmers, the number of swimmers’ ear cases skyrockets proportionally. This very painful infection of the outer-ear can ruin a season, a summer, or even a swimming career if it becomes severe enough. Luckily, with diligence, swimmer’s ear can be easily prevented with about 2 minutes of care after each practice.

Swimmer’s ear is caused by liquid penetrating the water-resistant lining of the ear canal. This lining is usually pretty solid, but when it is wet for a long period of time, it becomes pruney and soft, much like our fingers and toes do. This makes the ear very susceptible to tearing, and once there is even a tiny tear, bacteria can get into it and cause all sorts of nasty infections.

Symptoms: People with swimmer’s ear usually complain of an itchy and/or painful ear. The pain can be quite severe. The ear is particularly sensitive to the being tugged up and down. The earwax may appear soft and white, and there may be a small amount of clear discharge.

#1. The first step is to consider ear plugs. When fit properly, these can help keep water out of the ear. General commercial earplugs do not tend to fit great, but ask your doctor if you want to get custom made plugs. Pulling a cap down over the swimmer’s ears will help keep the earplugs in place (as well as cover them up for those kids who are shy about them!).

#2. After practice, playing in the pool, and even baths and showers, use ear drops to dry the water out of your swimmers’ ear. Q-tips can irritate the ear canal and contribute to swimmer’s ear, so ear drops are the safest way to dry them out. Tip the swimmer’s head to one side and put a few drops in. Keep the head tilted for a minute or so to ensure it absorbs the water and bacteria, and then tip the head the other way to drain the solution. Repeat with the other ear.

These solutions can be bought at your local grocery store, or just combine 1 part water, 1 part vinegar, and 1 part rubbing alcohol. The vinegar disinfects, and the rubbing alcohol dries the ear out. Note that these drops are to be used to PREVENT swimmer’s ear, or to treat very mild cases.

FOR MORE SEVERE CASES, consult a doctor before putting anything in the child’s ear to prevent a very painful reaction. Prevention can go a long way, because once a swimmer gets an infection once, it is likely to recur frequently.

This article should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult your doctor if you have any concerns about your or your child’s health.