Avoid Swimmer’s Ear this Summer

Kid Swimming giving thumbs up.

Written by: Sara Atteberry, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

Trying to beat the heat this summer with long days in the pool?  Swimming is a great activity for your child, but can also make them prone to swimmer’s ear.

Swimmer’s ear, or acute otitis externa (AOE), is an inflammation of the external ear canal (different from an otitis media or infection of the middle ear space). This is often due to the prolonged water exposure, warm/humid summer environments, excessive water in the ear canal that does not drain properly, and even frequent ear cleaning (wax helps to protect the ear from water, bacteria and injury). The external canal becomes swollen, red, and infected with bacteria.

Your child may complain of symptoms including:

  • Itching
  • Pain
  • Drainage from the ear
  • Decreased hearing

If your child is having symptoms, please schedule an appointment with your pediatric provider to assess the ear and establish a diagnosis. Treatment is typically effective with antibiotic ear drops for 7-10 days. You can also use acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain relief as needed.

Strategies for preventing AOE include limiting the water in the ear canal by using a towel to dry the outside of the ear or tilting the head to each side allowing the water to drain after swimming or bathing. Try to avoid putting objects, including cotton tipped swabs and fingers, into the ear canal. There are alcohol-based ear drops available at many pharmacies for use after swimming to reduce moisture content and reduce bacterial growth.  Please check with your child’s healthcare provider before use to assure your child’s ear is appropriate for these products (avoid if your child has ear tubes, a perforation of the tympanic membrane, or a current infection). You can also discuss the use of ear plugs or swimming caps with your pediatric provider.

While your child will likely be eager to get back into the pool, we recommend avoiding swimming or submerging the head until treatment is complete and symptoms have fully resolved, usually 7-10 days. Luckily, there are many fun activities to do outdoors during summer that don’t require the pool!