A fairly common condition that affects 1 out of 10 people at some point, swimmer’s ear or otitis externa causes inflammation in your ear canal or outer ear. It’s called “swimmer’s ear” because excessive exposure to water can increase the vulnerability of the ear canal to inflammation. Symptoms like pain, itchiness, discharge from your ear, and temporary hearing loss can be indicative of this condition. While swimmer’s ear is mostly caused by a bacterial infection, fungal infections, allergies, or irritation may also be responsible.
Although it doesn’t usually cause complications, otitis externa can, in some cases, spread to bone which surrounds your ear, lead to an abscess, or result in a torn or perforated eardrum. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotic eardrops and pain medication to deal with this swimmer’s ear. Many natural remedies can also help you deal with this condition.1 Here’s what you could try:
1. Keep Your Ear Dry And Clean
If you have swimmer’s ear, water and dampness can aggravate the condition. So make sure your ear doesn’t get wet. Use a shower cap while you bathe to avoid getting water in your ear. And don’t go swimming till it heals completely. It’s also important to remove any debris or discharge from your ear by swabbing the outer ear. This can help ease symptoms and prevent complications. But be gentle and take care not to insert the swab or a cotton bud into your ear.2
2. Apply Heat
Heat stimulates the flow of blood and can ease pain. It also stimulates the circulation of white blood cells which fight infection. So apply a hot towel or hot water bottle to the affected ear to alleviate pain and bolster your body’s efforts to fight off any infection. If you prefer a hot water bottle, remember to wrap it in a towel before you use it.3
3. Use A Vinegar And Alcohol Eardrop
If your eardrum is torn or perforated, refrain from using eardrops or herbal remedies in your ear.4 Also, do remember to do a patch test before using any herbal remedy to make sure that you are not sensitive to it. You will also need to see a doctor if home remedies don’t offer sufficient relief.
Vinegar and alcohol is a tried and tested remedy for swimmer’s ear. Mix vinegar and rubbing alcohol in equal quantities and put a couple of drops in your ear. So how does it work? The alcohol helps remove water from your ear as it mixes with water and then evaporates. Meanwhile, the acidity of vinegar inhibits the growth of infection-causing bacteria.5
4. Use Mullein Oil
Mullein flower oil, essentially the extract of Verbascum tharpus, is a famed traditional remedy for earache and infection. It is thought to have anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects.6 Research also shows that it can tackle bacteria which cause ear infections.7
Place a bottle of mullein oil in a pan of water on low heat till it is comfortably warm. Use an eye dropper to instill a drop of this medicinal oil into the affected ear. Remember to test the temperature of the oil on your arm before you use it to make sure that it’s not too hot.8 9 Again, remember not to try this remedy if your eardrum is perforated.
5. Try Garlic Infused Oil
Garlic has traditionally been used to tackle infections and can come in handy with ear infections too. Studies show that garlic extract can inhibit the growth of bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus which can cause swimmer’s ear. Moreover, it has anti-inflammatory properties.10
To prepare garlic infused oil, crush a clove of garlic and heat it in a little olive oil. After the oil cools down, strain out the crushed garlic and instill a couple of drops of this medicinal oil in the affected ear.11 You can also buy and use a garlic extract-based ear salve.
6. Use A Tea Tree Oil Salve
Tea tree oil can help tackle ear infections too. One study tested the impact of tea tree oil on microorganisms which cause swimmer’s ear. Swabs from the ears of people with this condition were taken and exposed to tea tree oil. It was found that a vast majority (71%) of infection-causing bacteria and yeast were susceptible to the antimicrobial powers of tea tree oil.12
Tea tree oil can be very strong so it would be safest to buy a calibrated ear drop or salve with tea tree oil. In fact, some experts warn against using it in the ear directly as it may damage the inner ear.13 14
7. Apply Chamomile Oil
Dabbing a bit of chamomile oil around and behind the ear can also help soothe the pain and discomfort.15
Another herbal remedy with powerful antimicrobial properties, chamomile oil can also be used to treat swimmer’s ear. Studies have found this medicinal oil to be effective against ear infection-causing bacteria.16 Chamomile oil also has a pain-relieving effect.17 18 Chamomile also has anti-inflammatory properties. Mix a few drops of the oil in a drop or two of warm olive oil and apply this to your ear.19
8. Apply Tulsi Oil
Here’s a remedy from the ancient medicinal science of ayurveda for your ear infection – tulsi oil. This traditional remedy has scientific backing as research shows that tulsi oil works well against infection-causing bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus. Moreover, it also has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.20 To prepare tulsi ear oil at home, cook clean tulsi leaves in mustard oil. You can also add a little garlic to this preparation to enhance its potency.21 Apply a few drops in and around the ear.
9. Drink Turmeric Milk
Turmeric, which is commonly used as a spice in many parts of the world, has also been valued for its many medicinal properties in ayurveda. One animal study looked at the effect of curcumin, a potent bioactive compound found in this spice, on mice with middle ear infection. It was found that those who were administered curcumin had less tissue damage than the control group. In fact, treatment with curcumin had an effect similar to treatment with an antibiotic medicine in many respects. It is thought that curcumin works by impacting the production of inflammatory cytokines.22 It is also worth noting that research reveals that curcumin works effectively as a painkiller.23 So, prepare a cup of healing turmeric milk by boiling turmeric powder in milk and drink up to tackle your ear infection from within.
10. Try Ginger Tea
Ginger is another common larder staple that can help you deal with swimmer’s ear from within. Research indicates that it can work against bacteria which can lead to ear infections. In fact, one study found ginger extracts to be more effective than three commonly used antibiotics.24
But that’s not all. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and works as a painkiller. In fact, one study found it to be comparable in effectiveness to the commonly used nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen.25 Steep a teaspoon of grated ginger in hot water for around 3–5 minutes to prepare your infection-busting ginger tea.26
|↑1, ↑2, ↑5||Otitis externa. NHS Direct Wales.|
|↑3, ↑8||Natural Remedies: Nondrug Healing Strategies That Work Best. Rodale, 1999.|
|↑4||Perforated eardrum. NHS Direct Wales.|
|↑6||Mullein. California School of Herbal Studies.|
|↑7||Turker, Arzu Ucar, and N. D. Camper. “Biological activity of common mullein, a medicinal plant.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 82, no. 2-3 (2002): 117-125.|
|↑9||Morgan, Lyle W. Homeopathic Medicine: First Aid and Emergency Care. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co, 1989.|
|↑10||Palaksha, M. N., Mansoor Ahmed, and Sanjoy Das. “Antibacterial activity of garlic extract on streptomycin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli solely and in synergism with streptomycin.” Journal of natural science, biology, and medicine 1, no. 1 (2010): 12.|
|↑11||Rosen, Lawrence and Jeff Cohen. Treatment Alternatives For Children. Penguin, 2012.|
|↑12||Farnan, T. B., J. McCallum, A. Awa, A. D. Khan, and S. J. Hall. “Tea tree oil: in vitro efficacy in otitis externa.” The Journal of Laryngology & Otology 119, no. 3 (2005): 198-201.|
|↑13, ↑18||Skowron, Jared M. 100 Natural Remedies for Your Child: The Complete Guide to Safe, Effective Treatments for Childhood’s Most Common Ailments, from Allergies to Weight Loss. Rodale Books, 2011.|
|↑14||Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca Alternifolia). University of Michigan.|
|↑15, ↑19||McIntyre, Anne. Herbal treatment of children: Western and Ayurvedic perspectives. Elsevier Health Sciences, 2005.|
|↑16||Chung, Kyong-Hwan, Ki-Sook Yang, Jin Kim, Jin-Chul Kim, and Ki-Young Lee. “Antibacterial activity of essential oils on the growth of Staphylococcus aureus and measurement of their binding interaction using optical biosensor.” Journal of microbiology and biotechnology 17, no. 11 (2007): 1848-1855.|
|↑17||Miraj, Sepide, and Samira Alesaeidi. “A systematic review study of therapeutic effects of Matricaria recuitta chamomile (chamomile).” Electronic physician 8, no. 9 (2016): 3024.|
|↑20||Singh, Surender, Manjusha Malhotra, and D. K. Majumdar. “Antibacterial activity of Ocimum sanctum L. fixed oil.” (2005).|
|↑21||Khalsa, Karta Purkh Singh, and Michael Tierra. The way of ayurvedic herbs: The most complete guide to natural healing and health with traditional ayurvedic herbalism. Lotus press, 2008.|
|↑22||Birdane, Leman, Nuray Bayar Muluk, Cemal Cingi, Dilek Burukoglu, Vural Fidan, and Armagan İncesulu. “Evaluation of the Efficacy of Curcumin in Experimentally Induced Acute Otitis Media in Rats.” Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology 123, no. 5 (2014): 325-332.|
|↑23||Sahebkar, Amirhossein, and Yves Henrotin. “Analgesic efficacy and safety of curcuminoids in clinical practice: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” Pain medicine 17, no. 6 (2015): 1192-1202.|
|↑24||Sebiomo, A., A. D. Awofodu, A. O. Awosanya, F. E. Awotona, and A. J. Ajayi. “Comparative studies of antibacterial effect of some antibiotics and ginger (Zingiber officinale) on two pathogenic bacteria.” Journal of Microbiology and Antimicrobials 3, no. 1 (2011): 18-22.|
|↑25||Rayati, Farshid, Fatemeh Hajmanouchehri, and Elnaz Najafi. “Comparison of anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects of Ginger powder and Ibuprofen in postsurgical pain model: A randomized, double-blind, case–control clinical trial.” Dental research journal 14, no. 1 (2017): 1.|
|↑26||Tietje, Kate and Bob Zajac. Natural Remedies for Kids: The Most Effective Natural, Make-at-Home Remedies and Treatments for Your Child’s Most Common Ailments. Fair Winds Press, 2015.|