Here’s what you need to know to beat the infection & get back into the water

What is swimmer’s ear?

Swimmer’s ear, or otitis externa, is inflammation (redness and swelling) of the external ear canal (the tube between the outer ear and eardrum).

Anyone can get swimmer’s ear, but it’s most commonly seen in children. It can’t be spread from one person to another.

What causes swimmer’s ear?

Swimmer’s ear is typically caused by repeated exposure to water, which can make the ear canal more vulnerable to inflammation. This can encourage bacteria or fungus to grow.

It’s called swimmer’s ear because the outer ear canal is exposed to water when you go swimming. But you can also get swimmer’s ear from a bath or shower, or even if you’re somewhere particularly hot and humid.

What are the symptoms of swimmer’s ear?

When you have swimmer’s ear, your ear canal and your ear might feel itchy or hot. You may also have:

• Pain when the outer ear is tugged or when pressure is put on the part of the outer ear that sticks out in front of the ear canal (tragus)

• Redness and swelling in the outer ear canal

Most episodes of otitis externa clear up within three days, although sometimes symptoms can last up to a week.

If you’re experiencing severe pain, there’s a discharge or pus coming from your ear, or earache that lasts longer than three days, you should see your GP. 

How can I prevent swimmer’s ear?

You can prevent swimmer’s ear by keeping your ears as dry as possible, including wearing a swimming cap or ear plugs while swimming, and avoiding getting your ears wet when having a bath or shower.

Use a towel to dry your ears well after swimming or bathing and tip your head to each side to help water escape from your ear canal.

Avoid putting any foreign objects (cotton buds, for example) in your ears, as this can damage the lining of the outer ear canal.

How can I treat swimmer’s ear?

With a confirmed diagnosis of swimmer's ear, your GP will recommend treatment options that are appropriate for you. These can include:

Ear drops

The most common treatment for swimmer’s ear, they help to fight the infection and reduce swelling. Follow the bottle's instructions for putting in the eardrops.

If you’ve previously been diagnosed with swimmer’s ear and treatment is appropriate for you, the Boots Online Doctor – Swimmer’s Ear Treatment service* may be able to prescribe ear drops to help.

Medical procedures

If you have recurring episodes of otitis externa that haven’t responded to treatment, your GP may take a swab of the inside of your ear.

At-home solutions

While you’re waiting for ear drops or the results of medical intervention to take effect, ibuprofen or paracetamol can be taken, if suitable for you, to help provide pain relief.

You should also avoid using earphones or hearing aids while you’re recovering and keep your ears as dry as you can.

If symptoms persist, speak to your GP about further treatment.

*Treatments provided by Boots Online Doctor are subject to an online consultation to check suitability. Charges apply.