Swimmer's ear is common during the summer months when children are more likely to swim in the pool, lake or ocean. But you don't have to swim to get swimmer's ear. The infection is caused by too much moisture in the ear which can allow bacteria or fungi to grow.
Swimmer's ear or otitis externa (outer ear infection) is not to be confused with a regular (middle) ear infection. Dr. Joe Jolly, a pediatrician at Greenvale Pediatrics in Alabaster explains, "Swimmer's ear takes place in the outside of the ear in the ear canal itself, whereas an ear infection occurs behind the ear drum."
Dr. Jolly says it's easy for parents to identify whether their child has swimmer's ear or a regular ear infection. When a child has swimmer's ear, the outside of their ear is a lot more painful, especially when pulled or pressed upon. Symptoms include:
Symptoms of swimmer's ear
Pain on the outside of the ear
Swelling which causes child to feel like ear is "full"
There are ways to prevent swimmer's ear without having to give up swimming.
Prevention of swimmer's ear
Make sure ears are thoroughly dry after swimming.
Consider using over the counter drying drops (though not for children who have ear tubes or a hole in the ear drum).
Dr. Jolly says drying the ears thoroughly is especially important when a child has been swimming in a natural water source such as a lake or river where bacteria are more likely to be found. And as much as parents may be tempted to use cotton swabs to clean a child's ear, Dr. Jolly says using swabs can do more harm than good. Having wax in the ear offers a natural protective shield to bacteria.
If you think your child might have swimmer's ear, it's extremely important to see their pediatrician as soon as possible. Swimmer's ear is very painful and can lead to secondary infections if untreated.
Treatment for swimmer's ear is relatively easy. The child's doctor may prescribe ear drops that contain antibiotics to fight the infection. Sometimes a small cotton wick is inserted into the ear to enable the medicine to target the infection. The drops are usually given several times a day for seven to 10 days. It's important to keep water out of your child's ear during the course of treatment.
Swimmer's ear can put a damper on any child's summer fun. But with prevention and prompt treatment when identified, they'll be back in the water in no time.