How to manage swimmer’s ear in children
For some children – and their parents – summer can be a delicate balancing act between the joys of swimming and the pain of swimmer’s ear. Knowing what to look for in this common childhood ailment, plus a conversation with a pediatrician – may help you avoid or control potential instances.
Here are a few tips on how to recognize it, how to treat it, and how to avoid it entirely:
What is swimmer’s ear?
Swimmer’s ear – more technically known as otitis externa – is an inflammation of the external ear canal caused by fungi or bacteria. Water that stays in the ear canal during swimming, for example, may let bacteria and fungi grow.
What causes it?
As the name suggests, swimming is the most common cause of swimmer’s ear. But even just being in wet, humid conditions for an extended time can cause this type of inflammation. Other possible conditions that may lead to swimmer's ear include:
● Rough cleaning of the ear canal
● Injury to the ear canal
● Dry skin in the ear canal
● Foreign object in the ear canal
● Too much earwax
● Skin conditions such as eczema and other kinds of dermatitis
How to prevent it
The most important way to prevent swimmer’s ear is to keep the ear canal dry. You can best accomplish that by:
● Using ear plugs when swimming or bathing
● Gently cleaning your child’s ear canal regularly
● Drying ears well, especially after swimming
● Avoiding cotton swabs in the ears
Another tip to help keep ears dry is to use a hairdryer set to the low or cool setting. Hold the dryer at least 12 inches from your child’s head and be sure to wave the dryer slowly back and forth. Don’t hold it still.
Your child’s healthcare provider may also recommend over-the-counter drops to help dry the ears after swimming or bathing.
Who’s most likely to get swimmer’s ear?
Children are more likely to get swimmer’s ear if they swim for long periods, especially in lake water. They’re less likely to develop it in an appropriately maintained recreational pool or when swimming in the ocean. Others at higher risk include children who use hearing aids, earphones, or swimming caps or have skin irritation from allergies or other skin conditions.
How to treat swimmer’s ear
Once a child has swimmer’s ear, treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. Treatment may include:
● Antibiotic eardrops
● Corticosteroid ear drops
● Pain medicine
● Keeping the ear dry
When properly treated by a healthcare provider, swimmer’s ear usually clears up within 7 to 10 days.
When is it time to see a doctor?
Because the complications of swimmer’s ear can be very serious, it’s important to visit a pediatrician the first time you think your child may be suffering. Left unattended, complications might include:
● Temporary hearing loss from a swollen and inflamed ear canal
● Ear infections that keep coming back
● Bone and cartilage damage
● Infection of the tissue around the ear
● Infections that spread from the ear to the bones of the head or skull
By being proactive in seeking immediate care, you can avoid potential future problems. A local urgent care center like FirstKids – designed just for children – gives you the option to seek necessary medical attention at any time, without waiting for the next available appointment. FirstKids Urgent Care is a fully staffed, walk-in facility serving the Tuscaloosa areas, so there’s no appointment necessary. (However, If you prefer to schedule an appointment, you can do it online here.)
The professional staff at FirstKids is prepared to provide routine or urgent care for children of all ages. The clinic also accepts all major insurance plans, as well as Medicaid and self-pay patients as well.