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Safe splashing: Don’t let swimmer’s ear spoil your child’s summer fun

Are you worried about swimmer’s ear this summer? It’s a common malady among kids, especially when kids are spending more time in a pool to cool off from the summer heat. Here’s what you need to know about this painful ear condition.

What is swimmer’s ear?

Swimmer’s ear is a bacterial infection of the outer ear that typically occurs when water stays in the ear canal a long time. The ear canal is unfortunately a warm, comfortable place for germs to thrive. Water can also soften the skin in the ear and wash away protective earwax, making the environment even better for bacteria.

This infection can happen to people of any age, but it tends to be more common in children due to their smaller ear canals. It’s commonly associated with swimming in a pool, but any activity that results in water in the ears can actually lead to an infection.

What are the signs of swimmer’s ear?

Symptoms of infection typically begin several days after swimming.

Dr. Olivia Tack, Beacon Medical Group Pediatrics Main Street, is currently accepting new patients.

“Early on there can be itchiness in the ear and a feeling of the ear being plugged,” said Olivia Tack, MD, Beacon Medical Group Pediatrics Main Street. “As the infection progresses, there will be swelling to the ear canal, along with pain.”

Swimmer’s ear differs from the typical childhood ear infection, which occurs in the middle ear. If pushing on the ear opening or pulling on the ear causes pain, that’s swimmer’s ear.

Dr. Tack adds that in severe cases of swimmer’s ear, the pain is constant, and you may see fluid draining from your child’s ear.

Treatment and prevention

If your child experiences any ear pain or fluid drainage, contact their healthcare provider. Swimmer’s ear can be treated with simple antibiotic ear drops.

To ease your child’s discomfort, Dr. Tack recommends oral pain relievers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

In addition, “Keep your child out of water in order to prevent water from getting into the infected ear, and avoid putting anything other than the prescribed drops in your child’s ear,” she said.

Better yet, you can takes steps to help prevent swimmer’s ear:

  • Have your child use ear plugs or a bathing cap to prevent water from getting into their ears while swimming.
  • After swimming, dry their ears well with a towel.
  • Use gravity to help water drain out of their ears: Have your child tilt their head and pull their earlobe in different directions with the ear facing down.
  • For stubborn water that doesn’t drain, you can use a hair dryer on the lowest heat and fan setting, held several inches away from the ear.

In addition, don’t try to remove earwax yourself or allow your child to clean their ears with their finger. Even cotton swabs can be harmful.

“Using cotton swabs can cause damage to the ear canal, whether you feel it or not,” said Dr. Tack. “This damage will affect the protective lining of the skin in the earl canal and make it easier for bacteria to grow.”

With a few minor precautions, your kids will be all set to enjoy the water this summer!

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