Swimmer’s ear

Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the ear canal between the eardrum and the outer ear. It’s sometimes called Otitis Externa or acute external otitis. It’s called swimmer’s ear because kids who swim often are prone to the infection. Water can get into their ear canal and give germs a good place to live and grow. Infections of the ear canal can also occurs if kids stick objects in their ears, or even as a complication of diabetes, so it’s not always caused by swimming.

What causes it?

Swimmer’s ear occurs when bacteria infect the ear canal. This can happen when the canal is continually wet from swimming, when kids stick objects in their ears, when ear wax changes due to diabetes, when a hair follicle in the ear canal becomes infected, and even if the ear canal is too narrow. In some cases, infections are caused by fungi and/or viruses.

Is it serious?

Swimmer’s ear is not usually serious, but if you don’t get treatment, swimmer’s ear can lead to more serious infections of the inner ear, and the bones and cartilage around the ears. Untreated infections might cause hearing loss. In very rare cases, the infection can spread to the other parts of the body including the brain.

Can I prevent swimmer’s ear?

Prevent swimmer’s ear by keeping your child’s ears dry. Have her use earplugs when she swims, and remind her to never put objects into her ears.

How do I know if my child has swimmer’s ear?

Ear infections hurt. If your child is very young, she might pull on her ears or be irritable. Older children might complain of pain, itching in their ears, or not being able to hear well. You might notice fluid or pus draining from the infected ear(s). Some kids with more severe infections might have a fever.

How do I treat swimmer’s ear?

Your doctor can help you treat your child’s swimmer’s ear with medications like antibiotics and medicated ear drops. He will look in your child’s ear with a special instrument to verify what kind of infection she has first. Since she will probably be pretty uncomfortable, you can use warm compresses and paracetamol for ear pain. She shouldn’t get water in her infected ear(s) while she’s being treated, so use a cotton ball with a bit of petroleum jelly at bath time. You can also use cotton balls to keep medications from leaking out of her ears.

Should I call the doctor?

Because ear infections can lead to more serious problems, it’s always a good idea to call the doctor when your child complains of ear pain, even if the pain isn’t really bad. If your child is taking medication for an ear infection but doesn’t seem to be getting better, call your doctor and let him know. He might need to prescribe a different treatment.

What you need to know:

  • Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the ear canal that happens when bacteria gets into the ear and grows.
  • It is usually not serious if it is treated properly.
  • Swimmer’s ear can be uncomfortable.
  • It is treated with antibiotics and other medications.

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