Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the ear canal between the ear drum and the outer ear. It’s sometimes called Otitis Externa or acute external otitis. It’s called swimmer’s ear because kids who swim often are prone to the infection. Water can get into their ear canal and give germs a good place to live and grow. Even though it’s called swimmer’s ear, infections of the ear canal can also occurs if kids stick objects in their ears, or even as a complication of diabetes, so it’s not always caused by swimming.
What causes swimmer's ear?
Swimmer’s ear occurs when bacteria infect the ear canal. This can happen when the canal is continually wet from swimming, when kids stick objects in their ears, when ear wax changes due to diabetes, when a hair follicle in the ear canal becomes infected, and even if the ear canal is too narrow. In some cases, infections are caused by fungi and/or viruses.
Is swimmer's ear serious?
Swimmer’s ear is not usually serious, but if you don’t get treatment, swimmer’s ear can lead to more serious infections of the inner ear, and the bones and cartilage around the ears. Untreated infections might cause hearing loss. In very rare cases, the infection can spread to the other parts of the body including the brain.
Can I prevent swimmer's ear?
Prevent swimmer’s ear by keeping your child’s ears dry. Have her use earplugs when she swims, and remind her never put objects into her ears.
How do I know if my child has swimmer's ear?
Ear infections hurt. If your child is very young, she might pull on her ears or be irritable. Older children might complain of pain, itching in their ears, or not being able to hear well. You might notice fluid or pus draining from the infected ear(s). Some kids with more severe infections might have a fever.
How do I treat swimmer's ear?
Your doctor can help you treat your child’s swimmer’s ear with medications like antibiotics and medicated ear drops. He will look in your child’s ear with a special instrument to verify what kind of infection she has first. Since she will probably be pretty uncomfortable, you can use warm compresses and paracetamol for ear pain. She shouldn’t get water in her infected ear(s) while she’s being treated, so use a cotton ball with a bit of petroleum jelly at bath time. You can also use cotton balls to keep medications from leaking out of her ears.
Should I call the doctor?
Because ear infections can lead to more serious problems, it’s always a good idea to call the doctor when your child complains of ear pain, even if the pain isn’t really bad. If your child is taking medication for an ear infection but doesn’t seem to be getting better, call your doctor and let him know. He might need to prescribe a different treatment.
What you need to know about swimmer’s ear
- Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the ear canal that happens when bacteria gets into the ear and grows.
- Swimmer’s ear is usually not serious if it is treated properly.
- Swimmers ear can be uncomfortable.
- Swimmer’s ear is treated with antibiotics and other medications.
Find more relevant articles and information about swimmer's ear:
- Read more about ear infections
- Discover about middle ear infections
- Find out more about glue ear
- Discover the best ways to take a temperature
- Read more about fever
- Read more about bacterial and viral infections
Last revised: Monday, 18 January 2010
This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.