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What is Swimmer’s Ear?

Usually when people say “ear infection” they mean a middle ear infection, the kind babies and toddlers often suffer from. A cold or allergy can create excess fluid that fills the Eustachian tubes between the ear and throat, causing an infection. But there is another common type of ear infection, otitis externa, or more commonly known as swimmer’s ear. In contrast to a middle ear infection, swimmer’s ear is an infection of the skin in the outer ear.

What Causes Swimmer’s Ear?

Swimmer’s ear is caused by either an excessive amount of bacteria being introduced into the ear, or the skin being compromised, and therefore vulnerable to bacterial invasion. Here are some common ways these can occur:

  • Swimming in polluted lakes or rivers
  • Contaminated hot tubs
  • Cleaning inside the ear with a foreign object that scratches the skin and/or introduces bacteria
  • An injury or cut in the skin
  • Damage from a skin disorder such as eczema or psoriasis
  • Certain chemicals from hair products or dyes

It is also possible for the infection to get started from the presence of relatively clean water in the outer ear after a shower or swim.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear?

Outer ear infections are more likely to occur in older children and teens. Fortunately, these are not hard to recognize.

  • Pain – An outer ear infection is arguably the most painful type. Movement of the outer ear, such as the earlobe or cartilage, will usually increase the pain significantly.
  • A feeling of the ear being blocked or even decreased hearing
  • Some fever, but not always – High fevers, however, are not common.
  • Swelling and redness which may extend to the neck and face. This inflammation will probably be quite obvious to the doctor.

How Is the Infection Treated?

Treatment is pretty straightforward. Your pediatrician will prescribe antibiotic ear drops and instruct you to keep the ear dry.

How Can You Prevent Swimmer’s Ear?

  • Never allow any foreign object to be inserted into your child’s ear. This includes cotton swabs.
  • Remember that the ear has its own built-in cleaning system and is best left alone. Remind older children of this.
  • Use caution when deciding what water to allow your child to play or swim in.
  • Make a solution of equal parts vinegar and rubbing alcohol to use as ear drops after swimming or showering. Towel dry and put a few drops in each ear.

If your child has an earache, it is important to see your pediatrician right away. He or she will be able to tell you which kind of infection your child is suffering from, and treat it promptly, avoiding further pain and misery. Should you have any questions or concerns regarding your child’s ears, or other health concerns, contact us today.