Here comes summer! Ah, those great days at the beach, on the lake, in the pool, at the water park….Holy Smoke! The kids really will be living in the water a great deal of the time. So listen up for facts about Swimmers Ear or Otitis Externa. What causes it, how to prevent it and what to do if you or your child get it this summer.
Swimmers Ear, also known as Otitis Externa, is a painful infection of the ear canal (that part leading from the outside in to the ear drum) caused by bacteria or fungus. Usually when people talk about a kid getting an “ear infection” they are referring to Otitis Media or a middle ear infection like we sometimes get with a cold or sinus infection. Swimmers ear, on the other hand happens when bacteria or fungus grows in that passageway to the eardrum that’s lined by delicate skin that’s usually protected with a thin layer of wax.
Most of the time water runs in and out of that area and causes no problems like when we shower. On the other hand, when water stays in the canal for prolonged periods of time or if the water we’re swimming in is not properly treated with chemicals to control bacteria or if we swim in contaminated lakes or streams, bacteria can have a chance to grow there. This ultimately causes the canal to get red, swollen and painful and that is the condition known as swimmers ear.
Sometimes, you can get swimmers ear without ever going swimming. A scratch or other injury/irritation to the canal can also lead to swimmers ear.
SO YOU THINK YOU MIGHT HAVE SWIMMERS EAR….
Often the first symptom of swimmers ear is itching, but try not to scratch it and never insert anything into the ear canal to try to scratch it, that can only make things worse. Ear pain is the most common sign of swimmer’s ear. Even touching the outside of the ear or tugging on the ear lobe can become quite painful. Hearing can become diminished as the canal swells.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU THINK YOU HAVE SWIMMER’S EAR
Seek medical attention. Your care provider will examine your ear. They may take a sample of fluid if you have ear drainage, to culture and determine what’s growing in the ear precisely. Often times a treatment with anti-bacterial and anti-fungal antibiotic drops is started without a culture. The addition of steroids to these drops is common to help relieve the pain and inflammation.
HOW CAN I PREVENT SWIMMER’S EAR?
- Keep your ear dry using the corner of a dry towel to absorb water after swimming or bathing.
- Avoid scratching or putting objects inside your ear. This can damage the delicate lining making it easier for bacteria and fungi to grow.
- Avoid swimming in polluted lakes or streams or inadequately treated pools.
- You may use drops made of equal parts white vinegar and rubbing alcohol after swimming to dry the water out (Use 3-4 drops in each ear after swimming).
- Commercially drops are available such as Swimear that do the same thing and likewise should be used after swimming.
WHEN CAN I GET BACK IN THE POOL?
The question every child wants to know with swimmer’s ear is: “When can I swim again?” You’ll have to ask your doctor, but be prepared to wait a little. It could be as long as a week to 10 days before the doctor says OK. That’s a bummer in the summer but it’s better than having that awful ear pain back again!