Swimmer’s Ear

“I think he may have an ear infection,” is one of my favorite excuses for my children’s bratty behavior. I usually start with, “She is sooooo tired.” Then I move to, “When is the last time this kid ate?” If the tantrum escalates to a point that cannot be explained by exhaustion or hunger, I move quickly to a medical diagnosis. Ear infection is usually a good one. In the absence of an otoscope, no one can disagree with me. Additionally, infections of the ear are so common, they are always plausible. The summer gives me an additional excuse – “Must be swimmer’s ear.” Feel free to steal this one and throw in a, “Or, she is just really hot,” for good measure. You may, though, want to have a better understanding of swimmer’s ear, better known as an outer ear infection. Every once in a while, the bad behavior may be caused by real pain and discomfort. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

1. What is the outer ear? The outer ear encompasses the ear you can see and the ear canal which ends at the eardrum. The outer ear canal is the area you are cleaning with a Qtip, which of course you should never do, but everyone does – it feels soooo good. It is about  25-35 mm long and less than a centimeter in diameter.

2. What causes an outer ear infection (Otitis Externa)? There is a protective filmy layer that covers the walls of the ear canal. This area can become inflamed when a lot of water, sand or dirt gets into the canal. These can introduce bacteria to the area. More time spent underwater or diving increases the risk of getting otitis externa. The dirtier the water, the greater the possibility of infection. A previous outer ear infection also increases the chance of a recurrence.

3. Symptoms include pain, itching, and a feeling of fulness in the ear. Moving the ear itself usually causes an increase in symptoms. Unlike middle ear infections, fever is rarely a symptom.

4. Prevention and what you can do at home.  Dry your ears gently with a towel when you get out of the water and tilt your head to allow water to drain. If you still feel water in your ear, you can use a hair dryer to dry the canal – not to hot or too close. If you or your child are prone to ear infections, try this home prevention solution prior to swimming. You can try over the counter ear-drying drops to get the water out after swimming and oral pain medications if the symptoms are mild.

5. When to see a doctor – If the symptoms are severe and persistent, or if the whining is driving you crazy, see your doctor. The diagnosis is very easy to make, as the ear canal simply looks like it is infected – red, irritated, increased discharge and possible narrowing of the canal. If there is a lot of wax and discharge, the doctor may have to clean out the ear to make a proper diagnosis and to allow the drops to penetrate. She will prescribe antibiotic ear drops that you will use 2-3x’s a day for 1-2 weeks. It is best to keep your ears out of the water while you are treating the infection. I have kids, good luck with that in the summer. Just do your best.

We are more than halfway through the summer. My fingers are slipping off the keyboard as I type through all the tears. I am a summer lover – the lazy, warm, non-scheduled days are my heaven. I am a better mother and my children are better kids. I am the polar opposite of Tiger mom. If I wouldn’t be arrested, I’d let them run around free with sticky fingers and sandy hair all year long. Over the next couple of weeks, I am going to focus on the kids. Next week – weird things your kids do and when to worry. After that, back-to- school health and wellness topics – OUCH!

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