How to treat swimmer's ear

Summertime trips to the lake or pool can be fun, but sometimes they can result in painful ear infections.  One viewer emailed in this question:

Dear Dr. Manny,
My kids get swimmer's ear every summer from all the time they spend in our pool. Can you give me any tips for dealing with it?
Thanks, Jeff

Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the outer ear canal, typically brought on by water that remains in the ear after swimming.  Symptoms can include itching in the ear canal, redness, discomfort and fluid leaking out of the ear.

Depending on the severity of the infection, doctors may prescribe different medications to treat it.

Dr. Richard Rosenfeld, chairman of otolaryngology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, said the best treatment for swimmer’s ear is prevention.

“Keep water out of the ear if at all possible,” Rosenfeld said.  “Dry the ear after swimming with the edge of a towel or blow dry.  You can also use alcohol drops.”

He added that it was important to avoid trauma to the ears – meaning not to pick or prod them, or use ear plugs.

“They can irritate and cause more problems than good,” Rosenfeld said.

If a child does get swimmer’s ear despite these measures, detect and treat it properly.  If it hurts to tug or pull on the ear, it’s likely infected.  In this case, a doctor will prescribe an antibiotic or acid-based drop.