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5/15/24 blog post

when to be concerned about swimmer's ear

little boy swimming Dayton Children's when to be concerned blog

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Summer is just right around the corner and with it comes long, lazy days spent by the pool. After a day spent doing cannonballs into the deep end and splashing with their friends, you may hear your kiddo complain of ear pain or “swimmer’s ear.” We talked to pediatric ENT specialist, Chantal Barbot, DO, to learn about the symptoms of swimmer’s ear, treatment for the condition and when parents should be concerned.

what is swimmer’s ear?

Swimmers ear, also known as otitis externa, is an inflammation or infection of the ear canal, the external ear, or both.  The term “swimmer’s ear” can be a bit misleading as things other than water exposure can cause this reaction. Otitis externa can be either infectious or non-infectious.

when/how does swimmer’s ear occur?

The most common cause of acute otitis externa is a bacterial infection. It may occur from trauma to the ear canal (such as a Q-tip or bobby pin) or be associated with skin conditions such as eczema. 

Swimmers can be more prone to otitis externa as repeated exposure to water can cause loss of protective wax/cerumen from the ear canal causing dryness and making it more prone to infection. Otitis externa is seen more frequently in high temperatures and humidity for the same reasons. 

what are the symptoms of swimmer’s ear?

Symptoms of otitis externa include severe tenderness/pain of the ear and when pushing on the tragus (triangle cartilage in front of the ear). Sometimes there will be discharge from the ear, ear fullness, pressure, decreased hearing or ringing in the ear. 

when should a parent be concerned about swimmer’s ear?

When the above symptoms are encountered you should be seen by a medical professional for an evaluation. There should be extra caution in individuals with diabetes or who are immunocompromised. 

what is the treatment for a swimmer’s ear?

Thankfully most patients diagnosed with otitis externa can be treated in the outpatient setting. The typical treatment is topical antibiotic drops combined with a steroid. Pain is often controlled with acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Sometimes additional measures such as debridement of the ear canal (removing damaged tissue or foreign material) oral antibiotics or placement of a wick in the ear canal may need to be considered. The wick helps keep medication around longer and assists with healing for otitis externa.

how can swimmer’s ear be avoided?

The biggest thing for most people to do to avoid otitis externa is not place objects in the ear canal such as Q-tips. For patients with recurrent infections, they may need to consider ear plugs that keep water from entering the ear canal or using antibiotic and steroid drops following water activities. 

Chantal Barbot pediatric ENT provider
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Chantal Barbot, DO

ear nose and throat (ENT)
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