Treating a sign of summer: Swimmer’s ear


Summer’s string of scorching days makes swimming even more inviting. While swimming is a great way to cool off, kids who spend a lot of time in the water, especially underwater, can experience inflammation of the outer ear and ear canal. This is medically referred to as otitis externa, but commonly known as “swimmer’s ear.”

Unlike middle ear infections that occur behind the eardrum, otitis externa affects the outer parts of the ear. The ear canal and outer ear can become painful and inflamed, usually from irritants such as water, cotton swabs and other foreign objects, or from scratching too hard. With swimmer’s ear, the most common symptom is pain, although itching and redness may also occur. One way to tell if the pain is due to swimmer’s ear is to wiggle or pull on the ear. If this causes pain, it’s likely swimmer’s ear; if not, it could be a middle ear infection.

If your child has swimmer’s ear, your doctor likely will prescribe ear drops with a steroid to be applied several times a day. The pain should subside quickly, but swimming is generally discouraged while using the drops.

Some children and adults are more prone to swimmer’s ear than others. Keeping the ears as dry as possible will help prevent the condition. Tilting the head and drying ears with a towel after swimming is a good way to avoid water being trapped in the ears. Drying ears with a hair dryer on the coolest setting also works. For children experiencing frequent cases of swimmer’s ear, a swim cap, ear plugs or over-the-counter ear drying drops are often helpful.

For general ear care, refrain from clearing the ear wax from ears. Wax provides a natural protective barrier and helps prevent infection.

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