Swimmer's ear is a common infection of the external auditory canal, in other words the part of the ear that connects the outer ear to the inner ear.
Swimmers ear is most common in children who spend a lot of time in the water, whether that is the pool, lake or even the ocean. The ear canal never gets a chance to dry out and this constant moisture disrupts the skin's natural barrier to infection. Because of this bacteria can proliferate and penetrate the skin and a painful infection develops.
A child with swimmer's ear usually complains of pain when their ear is touched or tugged on. They may complain when they are sleeping as they have rolled over on the painful ear. With an inner ear infection, known as otitis media, the ear does not hurt when touched. The ear drum is infected, not the ear canal. With a severe swimmer's ear the ear canal may appear swollen and smaller than usual.
The treatment of swimmer's ear involves using an antibiotic drop which is instilled into the ear canal. I often prescribe an ear drop that contains a steroid as well which will help to reduce the inflammation and swelling. Unfortunately, it is necessary to keep the ear totally dry while treating the infection so that means no swimming and I also try to keep the ear dry during bathing as well. This may mean 5 -7 days out of the water.
It is unusual to see swimmer's ear in babies or toddlers, but once your child is a fish in the water you want to try and prevent an infection.
You can prevent swimmer's ear by instilling ear drops into your child's ears after they have finished swimming for the day. There is a premixed solution called Swim Ear, that you can buy over the counter. I prefer to be thrifty and make my own bottle of drops using a mixture of equal amounts of white vinegar and alcohol. Apply a few drops to each ear and wiggle the ear around. This mixture will help the ear dry out so as not to get infected.
A painful ear is never fun and having to stay out of the water just adds insult to injury so be prepared as the swimming season is under way!
I'm Dr. Sue with TKD, helping parent's take charge.