How to Prevent and Treat Swimmer’s Ear

Whether your child is on a swim team or just loves the pool, they can develop an infection known as swimmer’s ear, which is a painful condition caused by water remaining in the ear when they get out of the pool.

What is swimmer’s ear and why does it occur?

Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the outer ear lining. Throbbing ear pain is the most common symptom of the infection, but sometimes your child may briefly lose hearing in that ear. The ear lining produces a waxy substance that repels germs and water, but being in the pool daily can eliminate this natural system of protection. When that occurs, bacteria buildup can lead to swimmer’s ear.  

Your child’s cries prompt an immediate trip to the doctor. Dr. Kumra examines your child and in most cases prescribes antibiotic eardrops. Part of the prescription is staying away from the water for several days — usually from four days to a full week.

Tips for preventing swimmer’s ear

Following are some helpful tips for preventing swimmer’s ear and keeping your child healthy at the pool.

Dry the ears after swimming or bathing

It’s easy to forget to dry your ears after swimming or bathing. But if you’ve ever seen your child experience throbbing ear pain, you’ll be proactive in helping them avoid it in the future. Have children tip their head to each side until all the water drains out of their ears. Then dry their ears thoroughly with a towel.

Wear earplugs

If your child is prone to swimmer’s ear, you’ll want to purchase two or three sets of earplugs — they may have a way of getting lost at the pool! Keep in mind that not all earplugs are equal. Some earplugs are designed to equalize air pressure, while others help block out noise. Make sure the earplugs you purchase actually prevent water from getting into the ear, and that they fit your child well.

Try liquid solutions to keep the ear environment healthy

If your child has sensitive or dry skin, ask the doctor if you can place a drop of olive oil in your child’s ear to help “oil” it — especially if your child swims every day. You want to protect the natural coating in your child’s outer ear.

Another solution: Mix equal parts white vinegar and rubbing alcohol and put a few drops (no more than four or five)  in your child’s ear as it’s tilted to the side. Keep it tilted for a few minutes, and repeat with the other ear.

Vinegar has germ-fighting properties. Before antiseptic solutions were available, people used vinegar to help clean wounds and help fight infections. Rubbing alcohol helps dry out the ear environment. But don’t apply this solution every day. It’s too drying to the skin and can destroy the natural waxy lining in the ear. You can inadvertently worsen the problem of swimmer’s ear!

Don’t put objects in their ears to clean them

Don’t clean their ears with a cotton swab — you should never insert any items into their ears, or yours either. If you are prone to wax buildup, which can close your ears so that it sounds like an echo chamber when you talk, have Dr. Kumra clean out the wax using specialized equipment.

For expert treatment for ear, nose, and throat conditions, call or book an appointment online with Dr. Vandana Kumra at ENT New York in New York City.

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