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Swimmer’s Ear In Children

Most children love being in the water. However, too much time spent in the water can cause swimmer’s ear or otitis externa, an external ear infection. Here is a guide of what parents need to know about swimmer’s ear in children.

Causes of Swimmer’s Ear

Swimmer’s ear occurs when water gets trapped in the ear canal, corroding the skin’s defensive lining, making it a good place for bacteria to breed. A toddler who swims often or puts his head under water when he takes a bath can have swimmer’s ear. Lake water is a common culprit but so is pool water, ocean water and water from showers.
Inserting something into the ear such as a cotton swab, a piece of food, a bead, or earphones and scratching the inside of the ear can also cause swimmer’s ear because these objects can strip off the protective earwax from the ear canal. In addition, allergies, diseases and skin conditions can also lead to swimmer’s ear.

What are the signs and symptoms of swimmer’s ear in children?

Symptoms of swimmer’s ear are normally mild at first. But they can get worse if the infection spreads or is not treated right away. Indications that a toddler has swimmer’s ear include:

•    Itching in the ear canal
•    Ear pain in only one ear that gets worse when pulled or when swallowing
•    Slight swelling inside the ear
•    Temporary hearing loss
•    Discharge of clear, yellow or smelly pus from the ear
•    Inflammation in the lymph nodes in the neck (for severe cases)

Diagnosing Swimmer’s Ear

You can try doing the ear movement test to check if your toddler has swimmer’s ear. Start by pushing the small flap that covers the ear canal. Pull back and up the entire ear and then push on the face (just in front of the ear).

You may also bring your toddler to the doctor. The doctor will use an otoscope (a lighted scope) to take a look of the ear canal. The doctor may also observe the discharge from the ear under a microscope to figure out if bacteria or fungi are causing the infection.

Treatment of Swimmer’s Ear In Children

Antibiotic Ear Drops

The doctor can prescribe an antibiotic ear drop which you have to put 5 to 10 drops into the ear 2 to 4 times a day for a week. Let it stay in the ear canal for at least 10 minutes and then let the fluid flow out onto a washcloth or tissue.


If your toddler is in pain, you may give your little one the correct dose of OTC or over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) or ibuprofen (e.g. Advil or Motrin) to help reduce the pain until the ear drop takes effect. Never give your toddler aspirin.

Apply Heat

Another option for treating swimmer’s ear in children is by applying warm compress to the affected ear. Soak a small washcloth in lukewarm water and lightly press against the affected ear. If you are using a heating pad, wrap it in a towel before putting it next to your toddler’s ear to avoid burning the ear.

Preventive Measures

If your toddler is susceptible to swimmer’s ear, you may put preventive drops in your toddler’s ear after bathing or swimming. You can either buy a swimmer’s ear drop or make a homemade ear drop by mixing equal parts of white vinegar and rubbing alcohol. These drops help prevent swimmer’s ear and puts the acid back in the ear canal.

Most importantly, teach your little one not to put things inside his ears. If you are going to clean your toddler’s ears, do not use a cotton swab. Use a soft washcloth instead.

If you have administered these treatments yet there is no improvement within two days or if the area behind the ear is red and tender, bring your toddler to the doctor.

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November 2017
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