06-20-2012 (Dayton, OH) -
Splashing around in the pool, or jumping waves at the beach are great ways to beat the summer heat. However, the combination of heat, humidity and water can lead to an infection of the ear canal called acute otitis externa, commonly known as swimmer’s ear.
“The infection frequently occurs in kids who spend an increased amount of time in the water and it is more widespread in the summertime, when swimming is more common,” says Melissa King, DO, pediatrician and Dayton Children’s ‘Dr. Mom’ blogger. “As the ear is exposed to too much moisture the skin in the canal can irritate and break down, allowing bacteria and fungi to penetrate.
But you do not have to swim to get swimmer’s ear. Anything that causes a break in the skin within the ear canal can lead to infection. For example, dry skin or eczema, scratching the ear canal, vigorous ear cleaning, or inserting a foreign object into the ear can all increase a child’s risk of developing otitis externa.
Symptoms may include:
- ear pain
- pain while chewing
- full or uncomfortable feeling in the ear
- redness or swelling of outer ear
- enlarged lymph nodes around ear
- discharge from ear canal
- difficultly hearing
To prevent swimmer’s ear from keeping you out of the water, The Children’s Medical Center of Dayton and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these nine tips:
- Use a bathing cap, ear plugs or custom-fitted swim molds when swimming to keep water out of ears.
- Use a towel to dry your ears well.
- Tilt your head and hold each ear facing down to allow water to escape the ear canal.
- Pull your earlobe in different directions while the ear is facing down to help water drain out.
- If water is still in the ears, consider using a hair dryer to move air within the ear canal. Be sure the hair dryer is on the lowest heat and speed/fan setting, and hold it several inches from the ear.
- Don’t put objects, including cotton-tip swabs, pencils, paperclips or fingers in the ear canal.
- Don’t try to remove ear wax. It helps protect your ear canal from infection. If you think the ear canal is blocked by ear wax, consult your pediatrician.
- Consult your pediatrician about using commercial alcohol-based ear drops or a 1:1 mixture of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar after swimming. Drops should not be used by people with ear tubes, damaged ear drums, outer ear infection or ear drainage (pus or liquid coming from ear)
- Consult your pediatrician if your ears are itchy, flaky, swollen or painful, or if you have drainage from your ears.
Otitis externa should be treated by a doctor. If left untreated, the ear pain will worsen and the infection can spread. To help alleviate the pain until your child sees a doctor, you can place a warm washcloth or heating pad against the affected ear. Additionally, acetaminophen or ibuprofen may also ease discomfort.
At home, follow the doctor's instructions for administering ear drops and oral antibiotics, if they are prescribed. It's important to keep water out of your child's ear during the entire course of treatment. A shower cap can offer protection while showering or bathing, and your doctor may also recommend earplugs.
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