Summer is here, which means a lot of swimming and therefore, a lot of swimmer’s ear. Here at Westchester Health, we tend to see a lot of this condition and offer parents this information to help them know how to treat it and better yet, avoid it altogether, because it can be very painful.
Infancy and early childhood are the peak years for middle-ear infections like swimmer’s ear
As Mason Gomberg, MD, a pediatrician with our Westchester Health Pediatrics group, writes in a recent blog, swimmer’s ear is an inflammation of the outer ear canal and occurs when water gets into the ear, usually during swimming or bathing, and does not properly drain out. The stagnant water then causes the ear canal to become irritated and infected.
Children with this condition typically complain of itching or pain in the ear, particularly when the head or the ear itself is moved or pulled. As the canal swells, hearing might be affected and the infected ear may ooze yellowish pus.
Symptoms of swimmer’s ear
- Severe ear pain that gets worse when the ear is touched or tugged
- Jaw pain
- Sore throat
- Itching in the ear canal
- Greenish-yellowish discharge
- Temporary hearing loss in the affected ear, due to the canal’s becoming swollen or filled with pus
- Redness around the ear canal opening
Best ways to treat swimmer’s ear
NOTE: Children under treatment for swimmer’s ear can still go into a pool/lake but should not get their head or ears wet while taking medicine for this condition.
From our years of experience, these are the 4 best ways to treat swimmer’s ear:
- Ear drops. After cleaning the infected ear, your pediatrician will begin treatment with medicated eardrops to kill bacteria and fungus, as well as reduce inflammation. The average course of treatment runs approximately one week. Note: It is not unusual for ear pain from swimmer’s ear to intensify for a day or two before the drops take effect.
- Antibiotics. Occasionally, the ear infection is severe enough to warrant the additional use of an oral antibiotic.
- Keep your child’s ears dry, and continue giving the medication for 2-3 weeks after the symptoms fade. When showering or washing your child’s hair, cover his/her head with a plastic cap or protect the ear canals with a soft earplug such as a cotton ball covered with Vaseline or OTB ear putty.
- A warm compress or heating pad against the ear will help reduce pain. Pain relievers such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs will also help.
Preventing swimmer’s ear
- Once your child has had a swimmer’s ear infection, you should try to prevent future episodes. To do this, place drops in the ears after swimming—either a 70% alcohol solution or a mixture of ½ alcohol, ½ white vinegar. Also, dry the ears with a towel immediately after swimming or bathing.
- It’s also recommended to dry out your child’s ears by having him/her sit out for 10-15 min for every 1-2 hours in the water.
- Never use a Q-tip to dry out the ear canal.
Come see us, we’re here to help
If you think your child might have swimmer’s ear, please make an appointment with Westchester Health. One of our pediatricians will diagnose whether or not your child does indeed have swimmer’s ear. If this is the case, together with you, we will decide on the best course of action to treat the infection so your child can feel better as quickly as possible. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.
To read Dr. Gomberg’s blog in full, click here.