Summer is upon us with the fun-filled activities children of all ages enjoy. It’s no secret that kids love swimming during the summer months. Unfortunately, if your child is in the water a lot he or she is at risk of getting swimmer’s ear. Germs and bacteria in pools, lakes and recreational water parks are one of the most common causes of swimmer’s ear.

What is swimmer’s ear?

Acute otitis externa (AOE) is a condition commonly known as “swimmer’s ear.” It is an inflammation, irritation or infection of the external ear canal that leads from the outer ear to the eardrum. The nickname “swimmer’s ear” is rather misleading. Although common to swimmers, you don’t have to be one. Swimmer’s ear can result from bathing, showering or even excessive sweating. Sometimes just extreme heat and humidity is enough for moisture to build up and become trapped. When water remains trapped in the ear canal it creates a moist environment for bacterial growth.

Swimmer’s ear is very common in children, but affects both males and females across a wide range of ages. Most cases happen in summer months or in warmer regions due to increased water exposure. Swimmer’s ear is different from a middle ear infection, which is common in young children. Symptoms usually appear within a few days of swimming and can include:

  • Itchiness inside the ear
  • Redness and swelling of the ear canal
  • Pain when the infected ear is tugged or when pressure is placed on the ear
  • Drainage from the infected ear
  • Full or plugged-up feeling in the ear
  • Muffled hearing or temporary hearing loss

Hearing aids may pose special challenges with swimmer’s ear. The earmolds will trap moisture and increase risk of infection or make treatment difficult in some children. Kids should always remember to remove hearing aids at night. Some kids forget, trapping moisture in the ear canals that can lead to irritation.

What should you do?

Promptly seeking medical care after the onset of symptoms will improve the success of treatment. Untreated swimmer’s ear can be very painful and can temporarily decrease hearing. If left untreated, swimmer’s ear could spread beyond the ear canal, lead to a chronic infection, or even permanent ear damage.

How can you prevent swimmer’s ear?

The best way to reduce the chances of getting swimmer’s ear is to take some easy precautions including:

  • Dry ears with a towel after swimming and bathing
  • Tilt head from side to side, allowing any excess water to drain
  • Use earplugs or a swim cap, especially when swimming in lakes and rivers
  • Don’t insert anything into ears; especially avoid the use of cotton swabs to clean ears
  • Use a hairdryer on a low setting to alleviate moisture in the ears

Don’t worry if you (or your child) happens to get swimmer’s ear; summer fun doesn’t have to end. Seeing a hearing care professional as soon as possible to get treatment started right away will not only ease discomfort, it will get you back in the water in no time.