Summer Safety

Swimmer’s Ear

By: Carole Mercer, MD

Swimmer’s Ear is a common problem during the summer months, especially this summer when the pool can be our only saving grace to keep our kids active and happy during a pandemic.

Swimmer’s ear, or Otitis Externa, is an infection of the ear canal. It occurs when water is left in the ear canal, creating an environment for bacteria and fungus to grow. This is different from the common middle ear infection, which is an infection behind the ear drum and is associated more with colds or viruses. A typical middle ear infection does not normally come with outer ear pain but swimmer’s ear usually causes discomfort with any movement of the outer ear. If your child has swimmer’s ear, they may also experience itching, redness, swelling, and/or drainage around the ear canal opening.

I know, sounds like ZERO fun.

So, What are the Best Steps to Prevent Swimmer’s Ear?

Prevention is key when it comes to otitis externa. Thankfully, our amazing bodies already have some protection by way of an underated substance we know as ear wax. Ear wax, or cerumen, helps to prevent bacterial and fungal growth. And even though excessive wax buildup could potentially trap water and contribute to infection, ear wax is your friend 99% of the time—so lay off the Q-Tips!

Other tips for prevention…

  •  Keep as much water as you can out of your child’s ears when they are swimming. Ear plugs could be a good choice if you have a little fish on your hands. Swim caps and swim headbands do the trick as well.
  •  Avoid Q-Tips or other objects to scratch or try and clean your child’s ear. I know I already mentioned this above, but more often than not, Q-Tips are more harmful than helpful for your little one’s ears.
  •  Develop an “after pool” routine. After your child is done swimming, you can do several things to help get any stagnant water out of their ear canal.
              1.  Shake the water out. Turn your child’s head to the side and gently pull on their ear lobe.
              2.  Use a hair dryer (with CAUTION). Keep the hair dryer on low heat and 12 inches away from your child’s ear.
              3.  Over the counter drying drops. Usually these are just some form of rubbing alcohol.
              4.  Home made drying solution. Use 1 part rubbing alcohol and 1 part white vinegar.

***Please Note: If you have ear pain, just had ear surgery, have a hole in your ear (ear perforation) or ear tubes, please ask your doctor before using any of these remedies.***

Although these preventative measures are very helpful, your child can sadly still get swimmer’s ear. But, not to fear, Parkside is here!

How Do You Treat Swimmer’s Ear?

The treatment for swimmer’s ear can vary depending on your child and it is best to see their pediatrician as soon as symptoms begin. Common treatments are antibiotic drops, steroid drops or acetic acid drops. Fortunately, oral medications are not typically needed unless severe issues occur or there are rare complications. Once treatment is started, improvement is seen after a couple of days and resolution is usually within 5-7 days.

Ibuprofen and/or Tylenol are fine to use for discomfort until the drops start to work. It is not recommended to try to clean or flush the ear canal at home if an infection is suspected, as it can cause more pain and damage in an already inflamed ear canal.

If the prescribed treatment is not improving the symptoms or pain, call us immediately. Please also let us know if there is swelling or redness around the ear after treatment has started.

Fear of swimmer’s ear is no reason to not enjoy your family’s favorite water activities. Just follow the above steps for prevention and call us when you need us!

Until next time,

Dr. Carole Mercer

Parkside Provider, passionate gardener, and would play dominoes for days

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