05-27-2014 (Dayton, OH) -
School is almost out and it’s time to beat the heat. That means water, and lots of it. Whether you’re plunging into your neighborhood pool or jumping waves at the beach, an ugly bout of swimmer’s ear may be just a splash away.
Acute otitis externa, commonly known as swimmer’s ear, is an infection of the ear canal, the tubular opening that carries sound from the outside of the body to the eardrum. “The infection frequently occurs in kids who spend an increased amount of time in the water and it is more widespread in summertime, when swimming is more common,” says Melissa King, DO, medical director of urgent care services and ‘Dr. Mom Squad’ blogger for Dayton Children’s.
Having too much moisture in the ear can irritate or break down the skin in the canal. This allows bacteria or fungi to enter the inner ear, causing the infection to occur.
“It’s a common myth that you have to swim to get swimmers ear,” says King. “However, anything that causes a break in the skin of the ear canal can lead to an infection.”
These infections can be caused from dry skin or eczema, scratching the ear canal, vigorous ear cleaning with cotton-tipped applicators, or inserting objects, such as bobby pins or paper clips into the ear.
Common symptoms of swimmer’s ear:
- Ear pain
- Pain while chewing
- Ear feels full/uncomfortable
- Itching in the ear canal
- Reddened or swollen outer ear
- Enlarged or tender lymph nodes surrounding the ear
- Possible discharge from the ear: clear, cloudy, or pus-like
Swimmer’s ear should be treated by a doctor. If not treated properly, the ear pain can worsen and the infection can spread. Pain can be alleviated prior to seeing the doctor by placing a warm washcloth or heating pad against the infected ear. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can also be used to ease pain.
Seven tips to help avoid swimmer’s ear
- Wear bathing cap, ear plugs, or custom fitted swim molds while swimming to prevent water from entering the ear.
- Use a towel to dry your ears well.
- Tilt head and hold each ear facing down to allow water to drain from the ear canal; Pulling the ear lobe in different directions will enable water to drain out more easily.
- Using a hair dryer can help move air within the ear canal. Use the lowest heat and fan settings and hold the hair dryer several inches from the ear.
- Do not try to remove ear wax, it helps protect the ear canal from infection. Consult your pediatrician if you think the canal is blocked by wax.
- Consult your pediatrician before using a 1:1 mixture of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar or commercial ear drops after swimming.
- Contact your pediatrician if ears are red, flaky, swollen, painful, or have drainage.
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