Joe and Teresa Graedon

Q: Do you know of any good, safe ways of dealing with swimmer’s ear? I can usually feel it coming on (often within a couple of days of clearing out earwax or swimming in a lake or pond). I’d like to be able to clear it up before I need to see a doctor and get some antibiotics.

Answer: When water gets trapped in the ear, it can lead to an infection in the outer ear. This is called otitis externa, or more commonly swimmer’s ear. It often occurs after getting water in the ear or injuring it with a cotton swab or fingernail.

To tell if the pain is from the outer ear or from the middle ear (behind the eardrum), pull gently on the earlobe. This will increase the pain from swimmer’s ear.

If you have pain from swimmer’s ear, you need to see a doctor. Prescription eardrops containing a corticosteroid and an antibiotic or an antifungal agent can clear up such infections quickly.

Prevention is your best medicine, though. Rinsing the ear with a few drops of a solution of half white vinegar and half rubbing alcohol can help dry out excess moisture after swimming.

Q: Is there an alternative to amitriptyline as a sleeping pill? I worry about it because I have read on your website that it is an anticholinergic drug that could affect memory.

I can’t get to sleep. When I do, I keep waking up. Some nights I only get two to three hours of sleep.

Answer: Amitriptyline is a sedating antidepressant. It does have powerful anticholinergic activity and could affect cognitive function.

A nondrug option is cognitive behavioral therapy. It is considered an effective approach for chronic insomnia (Annals of Internal Medicine, Aug. 4, 2015). Other ways to get to sleep include acupressure, melatonin and herbs such as chamomile, valerian, ashwagandha and passionflower. To learn more about these and other strategies, you may wish to consult our online eGuide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep. It is available in our health guide section at

King Features Syndicate

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