Blocked Ear? Treatment and Prevention of “Swimmer’s Ear”

Water that gets into your ears can cause infections and saddle you with that blocked ear feeling. Some simple preventative measures and ear infection remedies can offer protection.

blocked ear or swimmers ear

Swimmer’s ear occurs when bacteria or fungi from water gets into the ear canal.

© Alila07 |

Even if you’re not a regular swimmer, you may experience a blocked ear—the condition many call “swimmer’s ear”—from time to time. A blocked ear may indicate an infection and inflammation of the outer ear canal. As with any ailment, it helps to understand the proven ways to prevent the symptoms that indicated a blocked ear.

Blocked Ear: Causes and Symptoms

Swimmer’s ear occurs when bacteria or fungi from water gets into the ear canal. It usually occurs from bathing, swimming, or other exposure to water.

Common symptoms of a blocked ear include itching, swelling, pain, and a yellow discharge from the affected ear. (See also our post How to Remove Ear Wax.) You also may suffer from hearing loss due to the inflammation or discharge that can block the ear canal. All of it will leave you looking for ear infection remedies.

Swimmer’s ear also may affect the external part of the ear. Outer ear infection due to bacteria can cause a boil or abscess. Skin disorders such as dermatitis can also cause inflammation of the outer ear and make your ear more prone to infection. Over time, if left untreated, your ear may become painful to the touch and infection may spread to other ear structures. If this occurs, you should see your doctor.

Blocked Ear Diagnosis

In examining a blocked ear, your doctor will inspect your ear and typically will prescribe medicine, usually in the form of eardrops. The type of medication depends on the ear infection symptoms related to your swimmer’s ear. Antibiotic eardrops help clear up any bacterial infection. Antifungal drugs kill fungus, and anti-inflammatory drugs reduce swelling.

Swimmer’s ear often clears up within a week. It is important to avoid getting moisture in your ear during the treatment duration. The best way to keep water out of the canal—including during showers—is to put a ball of cotton covered with a layer of petroleum jelly in your ear. Remove the cotton after showering and dry out your ear canal with a towel.

Prevention of “Swimmer’s Ear

Drying your ears thoroughly after exposure to water can help prevent a blocked ear. Wearing a swimming or shower cap can protect your ears, as can ear plugs. If you do get water in your ears, follow this procedure to help protect against bacteria or fungi. (Note: Do not use these measures if you have a perforated eardrum or have had recent ear surgery.)

  • First, dry your ears thoroughly with a towel.
  • Mix equal amounts of rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol and white vinegar in a small bowl. (The alcohol dries out the ear and the vinegar changes the acidity of the ear canal, which makes it less likely that bacteria will grow.)
  • Lie down with one ear up, and add three to four drops of the mixture with a medicine dropper.
  • Keep the ear with the liquid in it upright for several minutes. You can help the drops get farther down into your ear canal by pulling on your earlobe and opening and closing your mouth.
  • After several minutes, tip your head over to allow the drops to come out. Repeat this ear drainage procedure in your other ear.

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Matthew Solan

Matthew Solan has served as executive editor of Harvard Men's Health Watch since 2016. He was previously executive editor for UCLA Health's Healthy Years and was a regular contributor to … Read More

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