Summer’s in full swing and children are spending more time at the
pool. You slather on sunscreen to protect their skin and goggles to protect
their eyes. But have you thought about protecting their ears? Swimmer’s
ear, or “otitis externa,” is a bacterial infection that can
develop when contaminated water gets trapped in the ear canal for a long
time. If a pool is not properly disinfected or its pH levels are imbalanced,
the pool may contain germs that can cause an infection.
While children usually get swimmer’s ear after being in pools or
lakes, sweating and bathing can sometimes cause it.
Swimmer’s ear is a common problem, causing about 2.4 million health
care visits every year. It’s also painful and uncomfortable.
An infection of the skin lining the ear canal, swimmer’s ear can
make ear canals itchy or painful and can cause pain when the ear is touched
or moved up and down. Other symptoms include small amounts of discharge
coming from the ear or a feeling like the ear is clogged. But there are
a number of simple ways you can prevent and treat swimmer’s ear.
First, it’s important to keep your child’s ears as dry as possible
during and after swim time. You may want to have your child wear a bathing
cap, use ear plugs, or even wear custom-fitted swim molds that cover the
ears. Always dry your child’s ear thoroughly with a towel after
time in the pool. That childhood habit of shaking your head while tilting
it to one side can also go a long way in getting water out of the ear.
If there’s still water in your child’s ear, use a blow dryer.
Just be sure that the dryer is on the lowest heat and speed settings and
that it’s several inches away from your child’s ear.
If you suspect your child has swimmer’s ear, call your doctor as
soon as possible to avoid further problems. In most cases, swimmer’s
ear can be treated with topical antibiotic ear drops.
If your child spends a lot of time in the water or has had problems with
swimmer’s ear, ask your doctor about rinsing your child’s
ears with an alcohol-based ear drop or a mixture of equal parts white
vinegar and rubbing alcohol after swimming.
About the Author:
Dr. Maureen Villasenor is a board-certified pediatrician with
St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group. An Orange County native, she attended medical school at the Charles Drew/UCLA
Medical Education Program, where she was elected into the Alpha Omega
Alpha medical honors society. Dr. Villasenor completed her pediatric residency
training in 2012 at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.