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Ear Canal Problems (Swimmer's Ear) (cont.)

Check Your Symptoms

Home Treatment

If you have a ruptured eardrum, you will likely need to see your doctor to treat the infection or injury that caused the rupture. A ruptured eardrum usually drains suddenly and leaks fluid that can look like pus, smell bad, or even be bloody.

If you do not have a ruptured eardrum, you may be able to relieve your ear canal problem.

  • Gently rinse the ear using a bulb syringe and warm saline solution or a half-and-half solution of white vinegar and warm water. Make sure the flushing solution is body temperature. Inserting cool or hot fluids in the ear may cause dizziness.
  • If your ear is itchy, try nonprescription swimmer's eardrops, such as Star-Otic or Swim-Ear. Use them before and after swimming or getting your ears wet.
  • To ease ear pain, apply a warm washcloth or a heating pad set on low. There may be some drainage when the heat melts earwax. For more information about earwax removal, see the topic Earwax.
    • Do not use a heating pad when you are in bed. You may fall asleep and burn yourself.
    • Do not use a heating pad on a child.
  • Do not use ear candles. They have no proven benefit in the removal of earwax or other objects in the ear and can cause serious injury.

To insert eardrops

  • First, warm the drops to body temperature by rolling the container in your hands or placing it in a cup of warm water for a few minutes. Inserting cold eardrops can cause pain and dizziness. See a picture showing how to insert eardrops safelyClick here to see an illustration..
  • Have the person lie down, ear facing up.
  • Place 2 or 3 drops on the wall of the ear canal so air can escape and drops can get into the ear. Gently wiggling the outer ear will help.
  • You may find it easier to insert eardrops in a small child's ear by holding the child on your lap with his or her legs around your waist and head down on your knees. If possible, remain in this position for 2 to 3 minutes.
Medicine you can buy without a prescription
Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your fever or pain:

Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.

Safety tips
Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
  • Carefully read and follow all directions on the medicine bottle and box.
  • Do not take more than the recommended dose.
  • Do not take a medicine if you have had an allergic reaction to it in the past.
  • If you have been told to avoid a medicine, call your doctor before you take it.
  • If you are or could be pregnant, do not take any medicine other than acetaminophen unless your doctor has told you to.
  • Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than age 20 unless your doctor tells you to.

Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:

  • The ear canal, the opening to the ear canal, the external ear, or the skin around the external ear becomes swollen, red, or very painful.
  • Dizziness or unsteadiness develops.
  • Bleeding or discharge from the ear develops.
  • Ear symptoms last longer than 1 week.
  • Symptoms become more severe or frequent.
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