Swimmer's ear in children
Michael Fucci, MD, is an Otolaryngoloist at Banner Desert Medical Center.
Question: My daughter swims year round and has recently been getting ear infections. Can they be prevented?
Answer: Otitis externa, or what most people call swimmer’s ear, is a common childhood ear infection that can affect children who swim or stay under water for long periods of time.
Too much moisture in your child’s ear can irritate or break down the skin in the ear canal, which then allows bacteria or fungi to penetrate and grow. Common symptoms may include:
- Ear pain that gets worse when the lobe is pulled on or when a child chews
- Discharge from the ear canal
- Swelling or reddening of the outer ear.
Make sure your child’s ears are dried thoroughly after water exposure. Use a soft towel to gently dry ears, and have your child tilt his/her head to the side to drain water from ears. You can also talk to your child’s doctor about buying removable ear plugs or alcohol drops like SwimEar® that can be used to dry up water in the ear and help prevent infection.
Swimming isn’t the only way to get otitis externa. Breaking the skin in the ear in any way, such as scratching the ear canal, inserting foreign objects in the ear or cleaning the ear too frequently with cotton-tipped applicators, can increase your child’s likelihood of getting otitis externa. Try to avoid cleaning ears with cotton swabs and never let your child clean their ears on their own.
If your child complains of ear pain or you notice any of the symptoms listed above, contact your doctor immediately. Non-treatment could result in severe pain and spreading of the bacteria.