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Swimmer’s ear: What to look for and what to do

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Many families will be hitting the pool or beach in the coming months. It’s important to understand what “swimmer’s ear” is, how to recognize it and what to do if you suspect your child has it.

According to, swimmer’s ear – also known as otitis externa – is an infection of the ear canal that can be caused by various types of fungi or bacteria. Too much liquid in the ear canal can cause the skin to break down, and bacteria and fungi can penetrate. Common signs to watch for include ear pain, pain when chewing food, and ears that appear red or swollen. Additionally, KidsHealth notes that your child may complain of a “full” feeling in their ear. Discharge from the ear also is possible.

To help prevent swimmer’s ear, KidsHealth recommends:

  • Gently dry out children’s ears after swimming with a towel and turn their head from side to side to help water run out.
  • Avoid having children clean out their own ears, and advise them to never place objects in their ears.
  • Use drops of a dilute solution of acetic acid or alcohol in your child’s ears after swimming, especially if they’re prone to swimmer’s ear. These drops can be obtained over the counter. However, the drops should only be used in children who don’t have ear tubes or a hole in the eardrum.

Call your child’s pediatrician immediately if your child is showing signs of swimmer’s ear. The infection can spread if not properly treated. Treatment will depend on the infection’s severity, but KidsHealth says that in most cases a doctor will prescribe antibiotic ear drops. These drops are generally given several times a day for about a week. During the course of the treatment, it’s important to keep your child’s ears free of water. Use a shower cap or earplugs when your child bathes.

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