With long days at the pool and other types of water play during the summer months, swimmer’s ear is a common issue. Swimmer’s ear, or otitis externa, is an infection of the ear canal. This is different from the typical ear infection (otitis media), which affects the middle ear. We’ll discuss the causes and treatment of this common medical problem, as well as what steps you can take to prevent it from occurring in your child.
Causes of swimmer’s ear
Swimmer’s ear often occurs when water enters the ear canal and stays there for some time. This can occur due to prolonged swimming, but occasionally happens during a shower/bath or other water exposure. The water irritates the skin and makes it easy for bacteria or fungi on the skin to enter and cause infection. Another common cause with children is items placed inside the ear. They can cause damage to the ear canal, allowing for pathogens to enter and cause inflammation and infection.
Swimmer’s ear symptoms
If your child has any of the following symptoms, especially after a day at the pool or other water exposure, or after they’ve placed a toy or other item in their ear, it’s time to get checked out. The most common symptom is ear pain. Your child may also have swelling or redness in the ear canal, and sometimes may have a hard time hearing out of the ear in question. If you attempt to move the outer ear, your child will likely feel pain as well.
Swimmer’s ear treatment
If you suspect your child has swimmer’s ear, head on over to your pediatrician’s office or your local pediatric urgent care. After a quick assessment, if your child is found to have an infection, they will likely be prescribed antibiotic ear drops, sometimes with a steroid to reduce inflammation. Your child should begin feeling better within 1-2 days.
Prevention of swimmer’s ear
Avoid the use of cotton swabs in your kids’ ears. These cause more harm than good and can introduce infection. Avoid swimming in lakes and other bodies of water that are polluted or seem questionable. If your child is an avid swimmer, consider investing in an ear dryer. This battery powered device can quickly dry your child’s ears and reduce the risk of developing swimmer’s ear. Finally, drops of acetic acid or alcohol (available over the counter from pharmacies) after a day of swimming can also help dry your child’s ears.
For more, see our blog section at the MVP Pediatric website.