Swimmer’s ear, an infection of the ear canal, is caused primarily by water-borne germs. There are a variety of factors that can cause and worsen ear infections. Thankfully, there are a number of methods to treat swimmer’s ear safely, naturally and effectively.
Identifying swimmer’s ear
Pain and discomfort are typically the first signs there might be an infection of your child’s ear canal. Often, that discomfort occurs during chewing and swallowing, though it may also occur when they turn their head. If the pain increases when the ear is mildly pulled, consider it all the more likely that an ear canal infection of any kind is a possibility. If the cause of the infection is not stopped at this point, swelling of both the ear and the lymph nodes surrounding the ear may also develop — making it even more important to identify the true cause of the infection. Other symptoms may include changes in hearing and a feeling of trapped pressure in the ear that doesn’t go away even with a big yawn. Note that fever is not a common symptom of swimmer’s ear. So if fever is present, take it as a possible sign of a middle or inner-ear infection.
Before any of these symptoms take hold, it’s possible that your child may feel a persistent itching sensation. Heeding this early, pre-symptomatic warning sign will go far in preventing early ear canal infections from becoming worse. If you’ve been frequently taking your child to the pool or lake, or allowing them to frequently submerge in the bathtub, it’s probably best to abstain from underwater activities until the early warning signs of swimmer’s ear subside.
Causes of swimmer’s ear
When water is allowed to accumulate in the ear canal for extended periods, the skin of the ear canal becomes irritated. Small or even micro-abrasions accumulate, which allow disease-causing bacteria or fungi to pass through the skin. The infection that characterizes swimmer’s ear more generally, called otitis externa, can be caused by any continual irritation of the skin in and around the ear canal, whether or not it’s caused by water.
First and foremost, it’s important to identify the true cause of an infection, and there are a variety of factors that can cause or worsen “swimmer’s ear” in children:
- Moisture accumulation in the ear canal
- Drainage from middle ear infections
- Changes in elevation or weather
- Bottle-feeding or pacifier use
- Scratching and abrasions
- Dry skin or eczema
- Improper use of cotton swabs
- Foreign objects placed into the ear
- Holding cellular devices against the ear
- Increased temperature of the ear canal for extended periods
- Excessive use of headphones, especially Bluetooth and wireless varieties
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of every possible cause of ear infections. Generally, avoid or minimize anything that irritates or blocks the ear canal. You can do this by limiting or eliminating exposure to moisture and making sure you do not block the ear canal or otherwise trap heat and moisture in the ear any longer than necessary. Anything that can physically scratch or rub your child’s already raw ear canal must be avoided as well.
Treating ear canal infections
Early and natural treatments are usually the best method for preventing swimmer’s ear from developing into a serious infection. The first step is to eliminate any potential cause or exacerbation of ear canal infections, as listed above. Those in particularly humid environments can dry the ear by softly blowing a hair dryer set to “cool” on the ear. Be careful not to do this for too long though, especially if one of the symptoms is temporary loss of hearing.
For progressed infections, pus may accumulate, making it important to periodically and very carefully clean the area without driving the infection further into the ear. Without regular, careful cleaning the possibility of developing a middle ear infection becomes higher, and may already be present. Advise your child to lie with the infected ear facing down as much as they can, and clean their pillowcase each night. If the ear canal infection becomes worse, seek the advice of a pediatrician.
A pediatrician may recommend antibacterial or antifungal drugs if they can verify the cause of the infection. Antibiotic ear drops may be helpful if a bacteria-caused infection has progressed far enough. Note that there are also anti-fungal ear-drops available, but it’s extremely important to never use pharmaceutical substances until the cause of the infection can be determined because the wrong treatment can actually make the infection worse.
Experienced pediatric care
Bard & Didriksen Pediatrics has been treating children in the Glen Carbon community for over two decades. We can help you diagnose the extent and cause of your child’s ear canal infection and help you determine the right course of treatment. It is our goal to inform you of the most effective ways to help your child maintain their natural state of joy and health for years to come. For any questions or to schedule an appointment, you can contact us. We look forward to watching your family grow and flourish.