How to Swim With an Ear Infection

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An ear infection occurs when the lining of the middle ear becomes swollen from an infection, casing fluid to build up behind the eardrum. Ear infections are often caused by a cold, a throat infection, allergies or frequent swimming. Although some doctors may recommend abstaining from swimming with an ear infection, Dr. Lynn Cates, a medical doctor with a specialization in pediatric infectious diseases, claims that it is safe to swim with an ear infection, as long as the eardrum is not perforated. However, there are certain precautions to take while swimming with an ear infection.

How to Swim With an Ear Infection
(Carmen Cordovez/Demand Media)

Things You'll Need

  • Antibiotics
  • Single-use earplugs
  • Cotton towel
  • Cotton swabs
Step 1

Visit a doctor before swimming with an ear infection. Your doctor will determine whether the eardrum is perforated; if it is, you should avoid swimming until the ear infection has completely healed. A common symptom of perforated eardrum is fluid or liquids draining out of the ear. Your doctor will also prescribe antibiotics to treat the ear infection.

Carmen Cordovez/Demand Media
Step 2

Apply earplugs before you enter the water. The earplugs should be made of a waxy, waterproof material; the wax will keep the water from penetrating through to the ear. Earplugs come in a variety of sizes and shapes, and it is important to choose the correct size for your ear. Earplugs that are too small will not effectively plug your ears, while earplugs that are too large will likely fall out of the ears while swimming. It is critical to wear earplugs while swimming; allowing water to enter the already-infected ears will almost certainly cause the ear infection to become worse. You should also use single-use earplugs while you have an ear infection. After using them once, discard them and use a new pair the next time you swim. This reduces the risk of recontaminating the ear as it is trying to heal.

Carmen Cordovez/Demand Media
Step 3

Do not share earplugs with anyone. Although you should never share earplugs, it is extremely important to follow this step when you have an ear infection. Earplugs can pass bacteria and infections from one person to another. Sharing earplugs while you have an ear infection will almost certainly pass the ear infection on to anyone else who uses the earplugs.

Carmen Cordovez/Demand Media
Step 4

Avoid spending significant amounts of time under the water if you are swimming with an ear infection. Swimming under water increases the chance of allowing water into the ears, even if you are wearing earplugs. If possible, swim with your head and ears above the water. There are a variety of swimming strokes and games that can be played above the water, and you should able to find plenty of above-water substitutes for your normal swimming routine.

Carmen Cordovez/Demand Media
Step 5

Avoid diving with an ear infection as well. Diving has the potential to create significant pressure on the inner ears, which can aggravate the ear infection. These changes in pressure on the inner ear could also cause the eardrum to perforate, which would make the ear infection significantly worse.

Carmen Cordovez/Demand Media
Step 6

Dry the ears thoroughly after swimming. Use a soft cotton towel to dry around the external ear. Carefully dry the inner ear with a soft cotton swab, being sure not to push the swab too far into the ear. Your doctor may also recommend using eardrops after swimming; speak with a physician to determine whether this is appropriate for your ear infection.

Carmen Cordovez/Demand Media

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