What patients and families need to know
Pediatric Swimmer's Ear
Key points about swimmer's ear
- Swimmer’s ear is also called otitis externa. It is an inflammation of the external ear canal.
- Water that stays in the ear canal during swimming may let bacteria and fungi grow.
- Swimmer’s ear usually clears up in seven to 10 days when treated.
- To help prevent swimmer’s ear, dry your child’s ears well after swimming or bathing; gently clean your child’s ears.
Prevention and Risk Assessment
Swimmer’s ear (otitis externa) is an inflammation of the external ear canal. Swimmer’s ear is caused by fungi or bacteria. Water that stays in the ear canal during swimming, for example, may let bacteria and fungi grow.
Many different things can make it more likely for your child to get swimmer's ear. Swimming or being in other wet, humid conditions are common causes. Other possible conditions that may lead to the development of swimmer's ear include:
Children are more likely to get swimmer’s ear if they:
- Go swimming for long periods of time, especially in lake water. Less likely in appropriately maintained recreational pools or ocean.
- Failure to remove excess moisture after swimming
- Injury the ear canal, such as cleaning it too often or scratching it
- Use hearing aids, earphones, or swimming caps
- Have skin irritation from allergies or other skin conditions
- Narrow ear canal
The following are some tips to help prevent swimmer’s ear:
- Use ear plugs for swimming or bathing.
- Gently clean your child’s ear canal.
- Dry ears well, especially after swimming.
- Don't use cotton swabs in the ears.
Another tip to help dry the ears is to use a hair dryer set to the low or cool setting. Hold the dryer at least 12 inches from your child’s head. Wave the dryer slowly back and forth. Don’t hold it still.
Your child’s health care provider may recommend drops to help dry the ears.
Swimmer’s ear can cause the following symptoms:
- Redness of the outer ear
- Itching in the ear
- Pain, especially when touching or wiggling the ear lobe
- Drainage from the ear
- Swollen glands in the neck
- Swollen ear canal
- Muffled hearing or hearing loss
- Full or plugged-up feeling in the ear
The symptoms of swimmer's ear may look like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her health care provider for a diagnosis.
Your child’s health care provider will ask questions about your child’s health history and current symptoms. He or she will examine your child, including the ears. The provider may use a lighted instrument called an otoscope to look in your child’s ear. This will help the provider know if there is also an infection in the middle ear called otitis media. Although this infection usually does not occur with swimmer’s ear, some children may have both types of infections.
Your child’s health care provider may also take a culture of the drainage from the ear to help figure out the best treatment.
Swimmers ear treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. Swimmer’s ear, when properly treated by a health care provider, usually clears up within seven to ten days. Treatment may include:
- Antibiotic ear drops
- Corticosteroid ear drops
- Pain medicine
- Keeping the ear dry
Complications of swimmer’s ear 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
Our pediatric otolaryngology experts diagnose and treat a wide range of pediatric ear, nose and throat disorders.
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