Dr. Greene’s Answer:
When kids finish swimming and climb out of the water, the water doesn’t climb out of their ear canals. The angle of the ear canals can allow water to sit there for hours, setting up the ideal conditions for an infection of the skin in the canal. Getting the water out of the ears is the first step to preventing swimmer’s ear. To do this, tilt the head to the side, tug on the ear to straighten the ear canal and ‘break the seal’, and let gravity do its work. Repeat on the other side. If swimmer’s ear is a big issue for someone, you might consider drying with a blow dryer. You might even try to prevent water from entering the ear canal with a swim cap or headband.
In children with normal, intact ear drums, putting a few drops of white vinegar and/or rubbing alcohol solution into the ear before and/or after swimming and/or at bedtime can also help prevent swimmer’s ear.
Whatever else you try, avoid putting anything in the ear (fingers, cotton swabs) that might rub or scratch the protective layer in the ear canal.
Notice that I do not suggest reducing swimming. Swimming is a wonderful way for kids to enjoy active fun. Our goal is to enable them to be active safely, not to hold them back from it.
Last reviewed: January 17, 2011