Published on May 10, 2024 at 8:00 / Updated on May 25, 2024 at 8:00

Swimmer's ear (also known as acute external otitis) is an inflammation of the visible portion of the ear canal, which goes from the outer ear to the eardrum. It is usually accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • Pain on the outer part of the ear, especially when the ear is pulled
  • Feeling of fullness in the ear
  • Itchiness of the ear
  • Clear fluid leaking from the ear
  • Difficulty hearing clearly

Causes and triggers

Swimmer's ear can develop as a result of an infection, allergy, or skin problem (e.g., psoriasis, eczema). Certain factors may increase the risk of developing swimmer's ear, including:

  • Swimming
  • Excessive ear cleaning or scratching
  • Wearing devices that block the ear canal (e.g., headphones, ear plugs, hearing aids)
  • Having too much or too little earwax


Treatment usually aims to relieve the pain and treat the infection, if necessary. An over-the-counter pain reliever (e.g., Tylenol, Advil) may be used to manage the pain. Your healthcare provider may also recommend ear drops to reduce the pain or treat the infection.

Until the pain improves, the use of headphones and hearing aids is not recommended. It is also advised to avoid getting the inside of the ears wet for 7 to 10 days after starting treatment.

To prevent swimmer's ear, the precautions below are advised:

  • Remove hearing aids at night and clean them regularly.
  • Avoid inserting small objects (e.g., cotton swabs, fingers, towels) in your ears.
    • The ears are self-cleaning and therefore do not need to be cleaned unless there is an excessive build-up of wax. If you are unsure whether professional help is needed to remove the wax, speak to your healthcare provider.
  • Use earplugs when swimming.
  • Use a towel or a blow dryer on a low setting 12 inches away from the ear to dry ears properly.
  • After swimming, apply 4 drops of this homemade solution in each ear to dry them out.
Mix 1 teaspoon (5 mL) white vinegar and 2 teaspoons (10 mL) isopropyl alcohol 70%

When should I see a medical professional?

  • If you have one of the following symptoms:
    • Vertigo, dizziness, or ringing in the ears
    • Pus or bleeding leaking from the ears
    • Fever or a general feeling of illness
  • If symptoms do not improve within 48 hours of starting treatment.
  • If you still have symptoms after one week of treatment.
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