By our Smarty friends at Charlotte Eye Ear Nose & Throat Associates, P.A.
Summer is right around the corner, and your child is probably very excited to trade the classroom for the swimming pool. But as fun and healthy as a day swimming can be, it’s important to remember that time in the water can cause swimmer’s ear. What is swimmer’s ear? Read on to learn more about this condition and how to care for it.
Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the outer ear canal. It is most often caused by bacteria in water that stays in the ear after you or your child finishes swimming. It occurs most often in the summer. That moist environment is ideal for bacteria and sometimes mold to grow. In addition, disrupted skin from scratching, cotton swab use, foreign bodies in the ear, or even eczema will increase the risk of outer ear infections.
Swimmer’s ear is usually a mild infection. Symptoms include:
– Itching in the ear canal
– Slight redness
– Mild discomfort
– Some drainage
– Mild hearing loss
However, if left untreated swimmer’s ear can progress to a moderate to severe infection with:
– Severe pain radiating from the ear
– A blocked ear canal
– Spread to the outer ear itself, or even the face
Fortunately, swimmer’s ear is typically easy to treat. Most often, your child will just need topical antibiotic eardrops, to stay out of the water for a week, and to keep the affected ear dry.
If your child shows symptoms of moderate to advanced swimmer’s ear, this is a more urgent problem and may require an ENT specialist. The doctor would likely gently suction the ear or put a cotton wick in the ear to aid in topical eardrop administration, CEENTA ENT doctor Joshua Levine, MD, said. This can provide rapid relief.
When swimmer’s ear does not respond to treatment in 3-5 days, there may be a fungal infection, or a middle ear infection that requires oral antibiotics, Dr. Levine said. Special patient populations, such as diabetics, can in rare cases develop severe infections and require long-term antibiotics.
You can also take a number of steps to prevent your children from getting swimmer’s ear in the first place.
– Earplugs can be helpful. This can help keep water out of their ears. Wax plugs are the most useful, but no earplugs are always effective
– Make sure they swim in clean water. Well-chlorinated pools are the best. Lakes, ponds, and rivers are more likely to have swimmer’s ear-causing bacteria in higher concentrations.
– Make sure they dry their ears. A clean towel or a hair dryer on low are the best tools.
– Use over-the-counter eardrops. They are good for drying out their ears, but shouldn’t be used if your child has ear pain, has recently had ear surgery, or has a torn eardrum.
– Do not remove all earwax. Earwax can be protective and help reduce the risk of swimmer’s ear. It is there for a reason!
Swimming is an activity many children enjoy, and remembering this information can help their time in the water be a healthy, happy time.
Dr. Levine practices in CEENTA’s Blakeney office. To schedule an appointment with him or any of CEENTA’s ENT doctors, call 704-295-3000.