Summer may be winding down, but there’s still plenty of opportunity for Louisville kids to hit the swimming pool or splash around in the backyard. Doing so could lead to a potentially harmful infection called swimmer’s ear, but with a few simple steps, your kids can enjoy the last of the hot weather without worry before winter sets in.
What is Swimmer’s Ear?
Swimmer’s ear, also known as otitis externa, is an infection of the outer ear canal. Water that is trapped in the ears promotes bacterial growth, leading to inflammation and infection. It is most common in children and teenagers, as well as those with skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. Excess earwax, a cut in the skin of the ear canal and coming into contact with water that is polluted or contains excess levels of bacteria will also increase your risk.
Despite its name, you don’t have to go swimming to get swimmer’s ear. Any contact with water can lead to the condition. In addition to swimming, activities such as surfing, diving and bathing are common causes of swimmer’s ear. Sticking objects such as fingers, cotton swabs and safety pins into your ears damages the thin protective film covering the ear canal and can trigger swimmer’s ear, as well. Even chemicals found in certain hairsprays or hair dyes can make you more susceptible.
Symptoms are mild at first and usually include itchiness and discomfort. You may experience swelling, minor redness and clear fluid discharge. As the condition worsens, pain and itchiness increase. You may experience a feeling of fullness in the ear and muffled hearing. Additional symptoms including fever, swollen lymph nodes and hearing loss may occur. If left untreated, swimmer’s ear can lead to permanent hearing loss, chronic ear infections and damage to the cartilage and bone.
Protecting the Ears
There is no surefire way to prevent swimmer’s ear. Even if you were to avoid all contact with water, scratches inside the ear canal, skin conditions and allergic reactions can all encourage the growth of bacteria. But there are steps you can take to reduce the risk.
- Swimmer’s earplugs are designed to keep water out of the ears. Wear them anytime you go swimming. Alternatively, use a swim cap.
- Apply a few drops of a solution containing one part vinegar and one part rubbing alcohol before you go swimming or bathing.
- Wear a shower cap when bathing.
- Dry your ears thoroughly after swimming and bathing.
- Never swim in water where bacterial counts are high. Signs will be posted warning of any dangers.
If you suspect swimmer’s ear, home remedies are often effective. Rinse and flush your ears with a saline solution or a mixture of vinegar and warm water. A warm washcloth pressed against the affected ear works as a compress to relieve discomfort, and over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen can be used to manage pain. If severe pain or fever occurs, make an appointment with a Louisville ear specialist as soon as possible.