Swimmer’s Ear in Children
Swimmer’s ear (otitis externa) is an inflammation from an infection
of the external ear canal. Swimmer’s ear is most often caused by bacteria. It may
be caused by fungi. Water that stays in the ear canal during swimming, for instance,
let bacteria and fungi grow.
Many different things can make it more likely for your child to get swimmer's ear.
Swimming or being in other wet, humid conditions are common causes. Other possible
conditions that may lead to the development of swimmer's ear include:
- Rough cleaning of the ear canal
- Injury to the ear canal
- Dry skin in the ear canal
- Foreign object in the ear canal
- Too much earwax
- Skin conditions such as eczema and other kinds of dermatitis
Children are more likely to get swimmer’s ear if they:
- Go swimming for long periods of time,
especially in lake water. This is less likely in correctly maintained recreational
pools or in the ocean.
- Failure to remove excess moisture after swimming
- Injury to the ear canal, such as
cleaning it too often or scratching it
- Use hearing aids, earphones, or swimming caps
- Have skin irritation from allergies or other skin conditions
- Narrow ear canal
Swimmer’s ear can cause the following symptoms:
- Redness of the outer ear
- Itching in the ear
- Pain, especially when touching or wiggling the ear lobe
- Drainage from the ear
- Swollen glands in the neck
- Swollen ear canal
- Muffled hearing or hearing loss
- Full or plugged-up feeling in the ear
The symptoms of swimmer's ear may
seem like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees their healthcare provider
for a diagnosis.
Your child’s healthcare provider
will ask questions about your child’s health history and current symptoms. They will
examine your child, including the ears. The provider may use a lighted tool called
otoscope to look in your child’s ear. This will help the provider know if there is
an infection in the middle ear called otitis media. This infection often doesn't occur
with swimmer’s ear, but some children may have both types of infections.
Your child’s healthcare provider
may also take a culture from the ear drainage to help figure out the best treatment.
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also
depend on how severe the condition is.
Swimmer’s ear, when correctly
treated by a healthcare provider, often clears up in 7 to 10 days. Treatment may
- Antibiotic ear drops
- Corticosteroid ear drops
- Pain medicine
- Keeping the ear dry
Complications of swimmer’s ear include:
- Short-term (temporary) hearing loss
from a swollen and inflamed ear canal
- Ear infections that keep coming back
- Bone and cartilage damage
- Infection of the tissue around the ear
- Infections that spread from the ear to the bones of the head or skull
Here are some tips to help prevent
- Use earplugs for swimming or
- Dry ears well, especially after
swimming. You can buy drops over the counter to use after swimming to dry out the
ear canals. Ask your healthcare provider if these are safe for your child.
- Pull earlobe in different directions while ear is faced down to
help water drain out.
- Don't use cotton swabs in the ears or
try to remove earwax.
Another tip to help dry the ears is
to use a hair dryer set to the low or cool setting. Hold the dryer at least 12 inches
from your child’s head. Wave the dryer slowly back and forth. Don’t hold it still.
- Swimmer’s ear is also called otitis
externa. It is an inflammation caused by infection of the external ear canal.
- Water that stays in the ear canal during swimming may let bacteria and fungi grow.
- Swimmer’s ear often clears up in 7 to
10 days when treated.
- To help prevent swimmer’s ear, dry
your child’s ears well after swimming or bathing.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare
- Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis and any new
medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider
gives you for your child.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it
will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results
- Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or
have the test or procedure.
- If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date,
time, and purpose for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office
hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need