Should Swimmers Ear Drops Burn or Hurt?

Swimmer’s ear, a common condition often contracted from prolonged exposure to water, can cause significant discomfort. The first line of treatment is typically the use of specially formulated ear drops. However, many people find themselves faced with a conundrum – is it normal to experience burning or pain when administering these ear drops?

should swimmer's ear drops burn or hurt

No, it’s not generally normal for swimmer’s ear drops to cause severe pain or a burning sensation. While a slight discomfort or cold feeling due to the drops’ temperature or the presence of a drying agent might be expected, intense burning or pain could indicate an allergic reaction or other complication, and should prompt immediate consultation with a healthcare professional.

This question and others like it about swimmer’s ear drops raises valid concerns, particularly for those who are apprehensive about potential side effects or allergic reactions, and can affect a person’s willingness to persist with their treatment. Keep reading on as we answer the most burning questions about this issue.

What are swimmer’s ear drops?

Swimmer’s ear drops are a type of prescription medication designed to prevent and treat an outer ear infection known as swimmer’s ear (otitis externa). This condition is typically caused by water that remains in your ear after swimming, creating a moist environment that aids bacterial growth.

Swimmer’s ear drops usually contain an antibiotic to kill bacteria, a steroid to reduce inflammation, and a drying agent to help remove excess moisture. The exact formulation can vary depending on the brand.

You can also use over-the-counter (OTC) swimmer’s ear drops, also known as ear drying drops, to prevent getting swimmer’s ear in the first place. Since OTC ear drops contain alcohol which is a drying agent, adding a few drops into your ears after swimming will cause the water inside to evaporate quickly.

Over the counter swimmer’s ear drops should NOT be used to treat swimmer’s ear and may contribute to the burning sensation or pain you are experiencing. If you want a cure, that’s what prescription ear drops are for.

Should swimmer’s ear drops cause pain or burning sensations?

While some users might experience a slight discomfort or a cold sensation due to the drops’ temperature or the presence of a drying agent, swimmer’s ear drops should not generally cause severe pain or burning sensations.

These feelings may indicate an allergic reaction, an irritation, or even a perforated (ruptured) eardrum, which could become serious if not addressed.

However, it is not uncommon to feel a slight cold sensation or minor discomfort when applying the drops due to their temperature or the presence of a drying agent like alcohol.

How do I use swimmer’s ear drops correctly?

Before using swimmer’s ear drops, ensure your hands are clean. Then:

  • Tilt your head or lie down with the infected ear facing upwards.
  • Gently pull the earlobe backward and upward (for adults) or backward and downward (for children) to straighten the ear canal.
  • Apply the prescribed number of drops into the ear without touching the dropper tip to the ear or any other surface to avoid contamination.
  • Remain in the same position for around five minutes to allow the medication to penetrate the ear canal fully.
  • If necessary, a cotton ball can be placed in the ear to prevent the medication from leaking out.

Remember that you should never insert any object into the ear canal, including the dropper. If you’re unsure about any part of this process, you should ask your doctor or pharmacist for instructions.

How long does it take for swimmer’s ear drops to work?

The effectiveness and timing of swimmer’s ear drops can vary depending on the severity of the infection and individual response to the medication.

Usually, symptoms begin to improve within 24 hours, and may be fully cured after 2-3 days of starting treatment.

However, it’s crucial to continue the full course of the medication, even if symptoms have subsided, to ensure the infection has been fully treated and to prevent a recurrence.

Are there side effects to swimmer’s ear drops?

Generally, swimmer’s ear drops are well-tolerated by most people. However, side effects can occur in some individuals.

The most common side effects include temporary discomfort, itching, or redness in the ear. Less common but more serious side effects might include an allergic reaction, characterized by rash, itching/swelling (particularly of the face/tongue/throat), severe dizziness, and trouble breathing.

These are not all the possible side effects, and if you experience these or other concerning symptoms, then reach out to a healthcare provider immediately.

Can an allergic reaction to swimmer’s ear drops hurt or burn?

Yes, an allergic reaction to one or more ingredients in the drops can cause discomfort, pain, or a burning sensation. If you have a known allergy to any antibiotics or other substances typically found in these drops, it’s important to tell your doctor before starting treatment.

Additionally, if the eardrum is perforated or ruptured, using drops can cause severe pain. This is why it’s crucial to have a doctor examine your ear before you start using any ear drops.

What should I do if the ear drops hurt or burn?

If the ear drops cause pain or a burning sensation, you should stop using them and contact your doctor right away. This could be a sign of an allergic reaction or other complication, like a perforated eardrum, and may need immediate attention.

What ingredients in swimmer’s ear drops could cause a burning sensation?

The exact cause of the burning sensation can vary depending on the individual and the specific formulation of the ear drops. However, some common culprits include certain types of antibiotics, steroids, and preservatives.

Furthermore, alcohol, which is often included as a drying agent, can cause a burning sensation, especially if the skin in the ear is already irritated or inflamed.

Are swimmer’s ear drops safe for children and the elderly?

In general, swimmer’s ear drops are considered safe for both children and the elderly when used as directed. However, instructions provided by the healthcare provider supersede any instructions given on the product label, as your doctor will account for your specific situation.

If you have any concerns regarding a previous ear problem, allergies, or other health conditions, bring them up to your doctor before starting the treatment.

What are some alternatives to swimmer’s ear drops?

Several natural remedies are considered safe and can be effective in preventing swimmer’s ear, though you should not rely on any to treat swimmer’s ear itself.

A 50:50 mixture of white vinegar and rubbing alcohol can be used after swimming to dry out the ear and prevent bacterial growth, as mentioned earlier. However, this mixture should not be used if the eardrum is perforated, if there are tubes in the ear, or if the person has ear pain.

Another preventative measure is to thoroughly dry the ears after swimming or bathing using a towel or a hairdryer on the lowest setting held at a safe distance.

Additionally, over-the-counter ear drying drops can also be helpful. However, these home remedies may not be adequate for treating a fully developed infection and medical attention should be sought in such cases.

Do swimmer’s ear drops always burn?

Not everyone will experience a burning sensation with swimmer’s ear drops, and it can depend on the specific formulation, as well as individual sensitivity.

Some ingredients, such as certain antibiotics, steroids, preservatives, or alcohol (used as a drying agent), may cause a burning sensation in some people but not in others.

If you have had a reaction to a specific type of ear drop in the past, let your healthcare provider know so they can recommend a different product.

What are the signs of an allergic reaction to swimmer’s ear drops?

An allergic reaction to swimmer’s ear drops may result in symptoms such as intense itching, redness, swelling in or around the ear, rash, dizziness, difficulty breathing, or swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat.

These symptoms could indicate a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis, which is a medical emergency. If you experience these or other concerning symptoms after using ear drops, you should stop using the drops and seek medical attention immediately.