Splish Splash, It’s Swimmer’s Ear

We’re fortunate to live in a community that has 4 rec centers each with an indoor/outdoor pool. During times like these (when temps hover near 100 every day) my boys and I visit those pools often. It’s great fun until one of them starts complaining that his ear hurts. I can’t recall a summer where I didn’t haul one or both kids to the doctor to get treated for an ear infection called swimmer’s ear (aka otitis externa or an infection of the outer ear canal).

You’ll be shocked (not!) to learn that water is the main culprit behind swimmer’s ear. When a kid swims, or even sometimes just from bathing, water can get trapped in the ear canal. Bacteria multiply quickly in this moist environment and infection sets in. Here’s an easy way to tell if you’re dealing with swimmer’s ear instead of the more common ear infection otitis media, which occurs in the middle ear and is often set off by a cold: Tug on your child’s earlobe. If he screams “Ow!” and looks at you like you’re the meanest mom ever, he probably has swimmer’s ear. (Your kid may also complain that his ear itches or feels blocked.) Knowing which type of ear infection you’re dealing with is important because kids with swimmer’s ear need antibiotic ear drops; kids with regular ear infections may get better on their own or they may need oral antibiotics. Either way, they should see a doctor.

One of my kids has had swimmer’s ear once already this summer, and the CDC estimates the infection leads to 2.4 million doctor visits every year. Since I’m trying to prevent another visit, I’m now trying these helpful tips from the AAP:

  • Towel dry ears after swimming and bathing
  • If you can get your kid to agree to it, have him wear earplugs when swimming (alas, mine says no way!)
  • Make a homemade ear drops solution and apply a few drops to each ear after swimming. The AAP suggests a mixture of one-half alcohol and one-half white vinegar (so you could mix 1/2 tablespoon of each and save the remaining mixture for future pool outings). Don’t use this concoction if you think your child’s already battling an infection. The drops wilsting like crazy, and you may indeed be recognized as the meanest mom of the year.