The goal of treatment is to stop the infection and allow your ear canal to heal.
Cleaning your outer ear canal is necessary to help eardrops flow to all infected areas. Your doctor will use a suction device or ear curette to clean away any discharge, clumps of earwax, flaky skin and other debris.
Medications for infection
For most cases of swimmer's ear, your doctor will prescribe eardrops that have some combination of the following ingredients, depending on the type and seriousness of your infection:
- Acidic solution to help restore your ear's normal antibacterial environment
- Steroid to reduce inflammation
- Antibiotic to fight bacteria
- Antifungal medication to fight an infection caused by a fungus
Ask your doctor about the best method for taking your eardrops. Some ideas that may help you use eardrops include the following:
- Reduce the discomfort of cool drops by holding the bottle in your hand for a few minutes to bring the temperature closer to body temperature.
- Lie on your side with your infected ear up to help medication travel through the full length of your ear canal.
- If possible, have someone help you put the drops in your ear.
If your ear canal is completely blocked by swelling, inflammation or excess discharge, your doctor may insert a wick made of cotton or gauze to promote drainage and help draw medication into your ear canal.
If your infection is more advanced or doesn't respond to treatment with eardrops, your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics.
Medications for pain
Your doctor may recommend easing the discomfort of swimmer's ear with over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others), naproxen (Aleve, others), or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others).
If your pain is severe or your swimmer's ear is at a more advanced stage, your doctor may prescribe a stronger medication for pain relief.
Helping your treatment work
During treatment, the following steps will help keep your ears dry and avoid further irritation:
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- Don't swim or scuba dive.
- Avoid flying.
- Don't wear an earplug, hearing aid or headphones before pain or discharge has stopped.
- Avoid getting water in your ear canal when bathing. Use a cotton ball coated with petroleum jelly to protect your ear during a bath.
- Goguen LA. External otitis: Pathogenesis, clinical features and diagnosis. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed May 3, 2013.
- Goguen LA. External otitis: Treatment. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed May 3, 2013.
- Lalwani AK. Current Diagnosis & Treatment in Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery. 3rd ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=39. Accessed May 3, 2013.
- Swimmer's ear: Otitis externa. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/rwi/illnesses/swimmers-ear.html. Accessed May 3, 2013.
- Papadakis MA, et al. Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2013. 52nd ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2013. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=1. Accessed May 3, 2013.
- Kaushik V, et al. Interventions for acute otitis externa. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD004740.pub2/abstract. Accessed May 3, 2013.
- Swimmer's ear. American Academy of Otolaryngology ¾ Head and Neck Surgery. http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/swimmersEar.cfm. Accessed May 3, 2013.