What is it: When water gets trapped in your tiny dark ear canal, it creates the perfect environment for bacteria and fungi growth, especially during the hot, humid months of summer.
What you can do: Use a swim cap or moldable earplugs to keep water out of your ears. Dry your ears with a towel after water contact. Alcohol drops can eliminate excess water in the ears, and make the environment less hospitable to fungus and bacteria. Cotton swabs are ok for cleaning your outer ear, but not your inner ear. “They remove protective ear wax and make your ears more prone to infection,” says Nikki McNight, a nurse practitioner at Duke Primary Care Croasdaile.
When to seek medical care: Pain that lasts for a day or two can be treated with ibuprofen or acetaminophen. If you experience swelling, fever, hearing loss or drainage from your ear, see your doctor. “You may have an infection, which may require antibiotic ear drops,” says Dr. McNight.