With temperatures in the 90s, our family has been spending many evenings at our community pool. Every once in a while, my 13-year-old son will get water in his ear. It’s often painful, so I’ve tried to find ways to remove the water from his ear. I’ve tried juggling his ear to open up the ear canal and have occasionally put drops of rubbing alcohol in the ear canal in hopes of drying up the water.
I asked Amy Seery, MD, a pediatrician and a faculty member of the Via Christi Family Medicine Residency program, how she recommends parents deal with this summertime issue. Here’s what she had to offer:
“As more children start enjoying water activities this summer we will start seeing more swimmers ear in our clinics. This common condition can affect anyone exposed to water, even when bathing, but children are especially prone. Swimmers ear occurs when the delicate balance of the outer ear canal is disrupted. This can happen when objects, including cotton swabs, are put in the canal and rub against the delicate skin lining the ear canal. Tiny breaks in the skin increase the risk of bacterial infections. Also, if water gets trapped in the canal it can disrupt the acidic environment that ear wax naturally produces. Less acid also means more bacteria.
Children with swimmers ear will complain of usually one-sided ear pain that is significantly worse when the ear is touched or moved. The ear may even look red and swollen, and feel warm when touched. While not an emergency, these children should schedule an appointment to see their regular doctor. In the meantime parents can provide their children with Tylenol and Motrin as well as warm, not hot, compresses to reduce the pain. A mixture of 50 percent white vinegar and 50 percent rubbing alcohol can help dry out water in the ear canal while maintaining the acidic environment. After an exam confirming the diagnosis many physicians will prescribe ear drops to help control the infection and the pain.
Once the infection has cleared parents should consider purchasing over-the-counter remedies that help with prevention of swimmers ear. These at-home treatments include soft wax you can press into the ear canal to prevent water from getting inside as well as premixed solutions to dry out the ear canal. And as always, fight the temptation to put cotton swabs or other foreign objects in your child’s ear!”