Natural Remedies for Swimmer's Ear

Swimmers' ear, also known as acute otitis externa, is a common infection of the ear canal that occurs when water gets trapped in the ear. It causes inflammation, swelling, itching, and drainage of fluid from the ears and can be quite painful.

Although swimmer's ear usually is best managed with prescription ear drops. there are some natural remedies and prevention measures that may be worth trying with a doctor's supervision.

swimmer's ear
Comstock Images / Stockbyte / Getty Images

Garlic Oil Drops

Garlic has natural antibacterial properties and can be used to treat swimmer's ear in the form of garlic oil. Garlic ear oil can be purchased at a health food or natural remedy store, but also is easy to make by grating several fresh cloves of garlic into a jar with extra virgin olive oil. Let this mixture sit overnight and then strain out the garlic pieces.

To treat swimmer's ear, use a dropper to place three to five drops of oil into the affected ear. Plug the ear with a clean cotton ball and lie down with your head to the side so the drops stay in place for 10 to 15 minutes. Let the oil drain out of the ear when you get up. Repeat once or twice per day until symptoms are relieved.

If left at room temperature homemade garlic oil has the potential to grow the bacteria that causes botulism. Store in the freezer for up to several months or in the refrigerator for up to four days.

Do not to put garlic oil in an ear with a punctured or ruptured eardrum or if fluid is draining from the ear.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide has antiseptic properties that may help kill bacteria in the ear. Because it also can destroy healthy bacteria, it's advisable to dilute it by mixing one part hydrogen peroxide with one part water.

To use, dip a cotton swab into the solution and gently clean the ear canal. Do not penetrate the ear. Alternatively, use a dropper to place two to three drops directly into the ear. After a maximum of 30 seconds, tilt your head to the side to help the solution run back out of your ear.

Heat Therapy

Heat can help soothe pain and inflammation caused by swimmer's ear. Gently hold a hot water bottle wrapped in cloth, a heating pad, therapeutic heating wrap, or a warm damp washcloth against the infected ear for five to ten minutes. Take care not to burn your ear. Apply heat a few times a day until the infection has cleared.

Vinegar and Rubbing Alcohol

Together these ingredients may prohibit the growth of bacteria in the outer ear and thereby reduce the risk of swimmer's ear. To use, mix one part white vinegar with one part rubbing alcohol. Before and after swimming, pour one teaspoon of this solution into each ear and then allow it to drain back out. Do not use if the eardrum is punctured.

When to See a Doctor

If you've never had swimmer's ear, or your symptoms are severe or persistent, see a doctor rather than attempt self-treatment. They can clean out the infected ear and prescribe antibacterial ear drops.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hajioff D, MacKeith S. Otitis externaBMJ Clin Evid. 2015;2015:0510.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. 3 Home Remedies for an Ear Infection.

  3. Cleveland Clinic. How to Keep Swimmer’s Ear From Ruining Your Summer.

  4. Cleveland Clinic. Swimmer's Ear (Otitis Externa): Prevention.

By Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.