Summer on the shores of Florida means plenty of swimming, whether it’s in pools or the ocean. Swimming is a great way to cool off on a hot day and to get some exercise, all while being outside and enjoying the best weather of the year. For many Floridians, however, a day in the water this summer could potentially lead to an earache.
Swimmer’s ear is a common summer problem for children and is part of growing up like sunburns and mosquito bites. Also known as otitis externa, swimmer’s ear can hurt — but it doesn’t have to change your summer plans!
Here’s what you need to know before you and your children hit the water.
1. What is swimmer’s ear?
Swimmer’s ear is an outer ear infection: it affects the outer ear canal, which runs from the outside of your ear to your eardrum. While infections can occur for any number of reasons, swimmer’s ear is caused by an excess amount of moisture remaining in the ear canal.
Because the ear canal is dark, any build up of moisture is going to promote the growth of bacteria.
Once bacteria starts to grow, the ear canal becomes inflamed, leading to pain and discomfort. While swimmer’s ear is most common in children, adults can get it as well.
2. How do you get swimmer’s ear?
The easy answer is “by swimming!” Of course it’s not quite that simple, you can also get swimmer’s ear without swimming. Too much moisture in the ear is the main cause of swimmer’s ear, but there are other factors as well. Some children may be predisposed to swimmer’s ear due to the way their ear canals are shaped, making it more difficult for water to drain out. The type of water matters as well: swimming in ponds, lakes, or poorly treated pools may increase exposure to bacteria, raising the risk of swimmer’s ear.
Finally, the wax in your ears serves as a way to stop moisture from building up inside. People who keep their ears a little too clean, may actually be increasing their chances of contracting swimmer’s ear.
3. How do you prevent swimmer’s ear?
We can’t just stop kids from swimming, especially during summertime in Florida! Instead, preventing swimmer’s ear starts with taking steps to keep moisture from building up inside the ear canals.
- Have your children thoroughly dry their ears after getting out of the water.
- Have them try to shake the water out or lean each side of the head to remove any excess water.
- Avoid swimming in untreated water or at beaches where the bacteria count is high.
If you find that your child is particularly susceptible to swimmer’s ear, waterproof ear plugs are an option. While it may take some time for your child to get used to them, they do a good job keeping ear canals dry.
4. How do you treat swimmer’s ear?
If you suspect swimmer’s ear (whether in your child or yourself), it’s a good idea to contact your primary care provider. Your provider will be able to confirm that it’s swimmer’s ear and not something more serious. Your provider will know the best approach to treat the issue.
Normally, swimmer’s ear is treated with special ear drops that help fight off the infection. Ibuprofen or another over-the-counter pain reliever can to relive the the ear pain as well. With the proper medication, swimmer’s ear should be resolved within a week or so.
One thing that you should never do with a suspected case of swimmer’s ear is ignore it. While swimmer’s ear is usually pretty easy , ignoring it gives the infection a chance to spread and potentially become more serious.
Have questions? Call Dr. Saska Sookra wants to be your primary care physician and if you are dealing with chronic disease, help you manage it. Contact us to schedule an appointment by clicking this link or calling (941) 755-0433