Summer break is a great time for kids to get plenty of sunshine and exercise by swimming in lakes, rivers, pools, and oceans. It’s also a great time for them to pick up a not-so-great condition called swimmer’s ear.
Swimmer’s ear is simply an ear infection that arises after bacteria-rich water gets trapped in the ear canal. Kids have ear canals that are shorter narrower, and less angled than adults’ ears, making children more susceptible to swimmer’s ear and other kinds of ear infections. However, adults can get swimmer’s ear, too.
Got a Bug in Your Ear?
Ear infections, also known as otitis externa, can be caused by fungi or viruses, but the most common cause is trapped bacteria. You’re more likely to get swimmer’s ear if you’re swimming in lakes or other non-chlorinated bodies of water due to their high bacteria count.
Initial symptoms are mild and include an itchy, red or uncomfortable ear. You may notice some clear discharge. If your baby has swimmer’s ear, he may tug at or rub his ear.
If the infection progresses, the itching and pain worsen. You may see a lot more fluid draining from the ear. Your child may also have trouble hearing or feel pressure in the affected ear.
Left untreated, an ear infection can progress to severe pain and fever, swollen lymph nodes and a blocked ear canal. When your baby or child seems cranky or fussy, shakes her head, pulls at her ear or exhibits other signs of swimmer’s ear, you should see the pediatric ENT specialists at Pediatric ENT Associates, part of Children’s of Alabama.
Treatment Goes Swimmingly
If the experts at Pediatric ENT Associates diagnose swimmer’s ear, they choose from various therapies to resolve the pain and promote the ear’s health, including:
- Acids to restore the ear’s antibacterial properties
- Steroids to resolve inflammation
- Antibiotics to kill the bacteria
They also ensure that no other underlying problems are contributing to your child’s discomfort. Your child should stay out of the water for about a week to 10 days while their ear heals.
Keep Their Ears Safe
As always, it’s best to prevent swimmer’s ear rather than cure it. A few simple steps can help you and your children stay pain-free this summer.
Your ear already has natural defenses, including the waxy substance that lines the ear canal, trapping bacteria and dust. That’s why you should never remove ear wax with a cotton swab or finger — you’re actually removing your ear’s protection! If you or your child have trouble with waxy buildup, ask your pediatric ENT specialist for ear drops or other cleaning aids.
Here are some tips for avoiding swimmer’s ear:
- Keep your kids’ ears dry. Even excess perspiration can get caught in the canal and cause an infection. Use a soft towel to gently wipe the outside of the ear after sports or swimming.
- Ask your Pediatric ENT Associates expert about antibacterial rinses you can use before swimming.
- Don’t scrape out the ear canal with cotton swabs, fingers, hairpins or anything else!
- If you or your child needs to use hairspray or spray-on sunscreen, protect your ear canals with a cotton ball first.
- Keep earplugs, headphones and hearing aids clean.
When you suspect swimmer’s ear or another type of ear infection, contact the board-certified pediatricians at Pediatric ENT Associates for a consultation and evaluation. You can reach us at our offices in Birmingham, Alabama or via this online form.