Mind & Body
Solutions for Swimmer’s Ear
5/1/2020 1:00:00 PM
Swimmers Ear

During summer, many families spend hours in the pool or at the beach, relaxing and cooling off in the water. One unwelcome side effect for all this water fun is otitis externa, an ear infection also known as swimmer’s ear.


According to Dr. Bridget Loehn, ENT & Allergy Specialist with Imperial Health, swimmer’s ear can affect both children and adults and often occurs when water becomes trapped in the ear canal. The skin inside the ear becomes moist, which dilutes the natural acid in the ear that prevents infections, thus allowing bacteria to grow.


Dr. Loehn says ear pain is the main sign of swimmer’s ear. "Pain can be severe and is usually worse when the outer part of the ear is pulled or pressed on. It may also be painful to chew.” Other symptoms include itching in the ear canal, swelling in the ear or lymph nodes, feeling of fullness or stuffiness in the ear, muffled hearing and discharge from the ear. 


Swimmer’s ear is not a life threatening ailment, but if your child has any of these symptoms you should see a doctor right away. Dr. Loehn says there are some complications that can occur with swimmer’s ear if not treated, such as temporary hearing loss, recurrent outer ear infections, bone and cartilage damage and more widespread infection.


"Treatment depends on the severity of the infection and how painful it is,” says Dr. Loehn. Antibiotic ear drops may be prescribed to fight the infection, possibly mixed with a steroid to reduce swelling of the ear canal. In some cases, the doctor may need to remove pus and other buildup from the ear. This helps the ear drops work better. For more severe infections, oral antibiotics may be prescribed. Over-the-counter pain relievers often can manage ear pain, but a prescription pain medicine may be needed if it’s severe. Once treatment starts, most children will start to feel better in a day or two. Swimmer’s ear is usually completely healed within 7 to 10 days of starting treatment.


Dr. Loehn says it’s important to keep water out of your child’s ear during treatment. "We recommend no swimming during treatment and using cotton balls to protect the ear from water while showering or bathing.”  


As a preventive step, using over-the-counter drops of a dilute solution of acetic acid or alcohol in the ears after swimming can help prevent swimmer’s ear, especially in kids who get it often. Drops are available without a prescription at drugstores, but should not be used in kids who have ear tubes or a hole in the eardrum.

Posted by: Kristy Armand | Submit comment | Tell a friend

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