Swimmers may sometimes have to deal with a painful infection in the outer part of the ear. Otitis externa hurts when you wiggle the ear. Usually the problem can be traced to fungi or bacteria proliferating in a damp, warm, dark area–the ear after swimming. Elsewhere, we have suggested preventing swimmer’s ear with ear drops, including home-made ear drops containing alcohol and vinegar. One reader with a lot of experience has quite a different suggestion. In fact, he took us to task for our recommendation.

A Better Approach to Preventing Swimmer’s Ear:

Q. As a former competitive swimmer who continues to log several miles in the pool each week, I’m familiar with swimmer’s ear and the treatments for it. None of the nonprescription solutions you have described is ideal for a couple of reasons.

First, putting alcohol or vinegar into an inflamed ear can be excruciatingly painful. Second, adding more liquid to existing wetness doesn’t solve the problem but can actually exacerbate it—particularly if long hair covers the ears, preventing them from ever fully drying out.

Drying the Ears with a Hairdryer:

The true remedy is simple: dry the external canal with a thin terrycloth towel, then use a hairdryer on a cool setting to dry the ear completely. This strategy for preventing swimmer’s ear works on people AND on long-eared dogs like my Labrador who swim and are vulnerable to ear infections.

A. Thank you for sharing your experience. We appreciate that long-distance swimmers and dogs with floppy ears may require the drying strategy you suggest.

We are somewhat concerned about people blowing air directly into their ears, however. Someone who isn’t careful might leave the setting on hot and do some damage to this delicate tissue.

Experts Recommend Drops for Preventing Swimmer’s Ear:

On the other hand, for the average person who may spend far less time with their ears under water, the alcohol and vinegar solution may be helpful. After all, the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery recommends this approach to prevent swimmer’s ear. https://www.entnet.org//content/swimmers-ear

Share your own experience preventing swimmer’s ear in the comment section below.

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