Mr Sam Jayaraj Consultant ENT Surgeon answers your top questions on Swimmer’s Ear

In our latest Ask the Expert article on Swimmer’s Ear featured in the West Essex Life Magazine, Mr Sam Jayaraj, Consultant ENT Surgeon explains this painful ear condition which is particularly prevalent during the summer months.

What causes swimmers ear?
When water gets trapped in the ear canal after swimming, bacteria that normally inhabit the skin in the ear canal are able to grow more than normal in the soggy skin. Scratches to the skin of the ear canal also allow the bacteria to penetrate into the skin.

Putting cotton buds in the ear after swimming can make it worse as this may scratch the skin or damage the natural self-cleaning process of the ear canal skin.

What symptoms should I watch out for?

  • Initially the ear may feel full and itchy with mild discomfort.
  • Then you may experience pain and ear discharge.
  • The ear canal becomes swollen and can even swell shut.
  • Hearing loss due to the ear being blocked follows.
  • There is often pain when the ear is touched.
  • Pain can spread to your face and neck and lymph glands in the gland can become enlarged too.

Can I treat swimmer’s ear myself and if so, how?
Mild symptoms such as slight fullness and itch can be treated by drying the ear with a hair dryer or using an ear drop mix of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar (these can be bought in chemists) but for more severe symptoms such as pain and swelling you should see a doctor as medicated ear drops may be required.


  • Use painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen (children under 16 shouldn’t take aspirin)
  • Place a warm or cold flannel on the ear
  • Remove any discharge by wiping the ear with cotton wool


  • Put anything inside your ear to remove earwax, such as cotton buds or your finger
  • Let water or shampoo get in your ear. Keep your ears dry.

When should I see a doctor?
If there is pain, swelling, discharge and hearing loss you are likely to need antibiotic ear drops.
An ENT Doctor can clean the ear canals of debris and discharge (ear microsuction which is like a small hoover for the ear) which will allow the ear drops to work faster.

If the ear canal is really swollen and ear drops cannot penetrate into the ear canal you may need a wick inserted into the ear onto which the ear drops can be applied.
Is there anything I can do to prevent getting swimmer’s ear?

  • Keep your ears dry.
  • Mop your ears after swimming and tilt your head to the side to help water drain.
  • Use ear plugs or cotton wool with Vaseline on the outside.
  • Don’t use cotton buds, finger nails, hair clips, paper clips or anything else which may scratch the inside of your ear canals.
  • Keep your ears wax free; an excessive amount of wax can allow water to get trapped behind it in the ear canal.

As long as you know you don’t have a hole in your ear drum, drops can be used to dry the ears and prevent infections. There are various proprietary ear drops containing acetic acid or vinegar and alcohol that can be bought over the counter in chemists.

A hair dryer on a low setting a foot away from your ear may help dry it.
Booking an appointment with Mr Jayaraj
Mr Jayaraj sees both adult and paediatric patients. 

He has clinics at The Holly Private Hospital Monday to Friday and you can book an appointment with him by calling 020 8936 1201. His private secretary can also answer queries on 020 8936 1239.

Date: 14/06/2018