Finding out you have swimmer’s ear is an annoying way to end what otherwise should have been a wonderful day at the pool or at the beach. Luckily, there are several home remedies for swimmer’s ear that can bring relief within a few days.

What is swimmer’s ear

“Swimmer's ear usually occurs after water gets trapped in the ear canal, setting up an environment conducive to bacterial growth,” says Dr. Marci Chasnow, a pediatrician at Box Hill Pediatrics in Abingdon, Md. “Water from swimming pools, lakes, and other recreational environments can harbor these germs.”

Also called otitis externa, it is an issue of the outer ear canal caused by bacteria or even fungus. It is often associated with a feeling of fullness or an inability to swallow and clear the ears.

Symptoms of swimmer’s ear include itching and redness in the ear canal, mild to severe pain, and a feeling of fullness that can make it hard to hear.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between otis externa and a middle ear infection called otis media, but if there are no other symptoms of illness and the person has recently been swimming, it’s a reasonably good bet that it is swimmer’s ear and not a middle ear infection.

Visible redness, itchiness or swelling anywhere in the ear or right around it on the face and neck can help detect the difference between an outer and inner ear infection.

Vinegar and water

Unless the child has tubes in their ears, Chasnow recommends using a white vinegar and water mixture right away, which may help to release the pressure and clear the ear.

A teaspoon of half water and half vinegar should be poured into each ear and held in place with a gentle cotton ball if the pain is not too bad.

Tylenol or Motrin can be given to help with the pain, and the issue should clear up in a few days. If it does not, a doctor ought to assess the need for prescription antibiotic drops that can help heal the ear.

While swimmer’s ear can be the precursor to an infection, it doesn’t always indicate that there is one.

Issues affecting drainage

Laura Brayton, a chiropractor in Hoboken, N.J., sees a number of patients who frequently complain of swimmer’s ear.

“If the atlas vertebra is out of alignment, it can affect drainage of the ear canal,” she says.

In those cases a chiropractic adjustment can help to relieve the pressure if that’s the reason for the blockage. A cranial sacral therapist who focuses on the bones in the head can help in that way as well.

Brayton also recommends using warmed garlic oil to help push the water out. The antimicrobial properties of garlic help kill any bacteria growing where it doesn’t belong. Adding turmeric oil to the treatment helps reduce inflammation as well.

Whether it’s a recurring condition or a brand new one, swimmer’s ear is a sign that the immune system in the body is compromised. In both types of cases, Brayton recommends immediately adding probiotics and boosting vitamins A, C and D to ward off infections that could develop if the body is not up to fighting it off.

Preventing swimmer’s ear

To prevent the condition from occurring again, it is important to dry the ears well after swimming. Wiggling the ear while tilting the head to the side can be helpful, and a cool hair dryer can too. Earwax, which is helpful for keeping germs out, should not aggressively be removed.

White vinegar diluted with water or rubbing alcohol and put into the ear after swimming can help prevent this issue from coming back again.

“I usually tell kids they can swim if the pain is decreased enough for an ear plug to fit comfortably,” says Chasnow. “Returning to swimming is not dangerous. It just delays resolution of the infection and may hurt.”

Have other natural remedies for water in the ear? Leave us a note in the comments below.

Related natural remedies stories on MNN:

Home remedies for swimmer's ear
Swimmer's ear is annoying, but not incurable. Here are some natural remedies for water in the ear.