Swimmer's Ear - Questions and Answers

Q:  How can I tell if my child’s ear pain is a middle ear infection or just “swimmer’s ear”?

A:  Most middle ear infections are preceded by nasal congestion from a cold or allergies. Swimmer’s ear or “otitis externa” is a bacterial infection in the external ear canal. Many children will report this kind of ear infection hurts MORE than a middle ear infection. The canal is often swollen and has “whitish” material in it. The telltale sign is if you push on the “tragus” (the little flap on the external ear where it attaches to your cheek), the children will complain of increased pain.

Swimmer’s ear is treated with antibiotic drops to the ear canal. If you think your child has swimmer’s ear, call the office and we will prescribe an appropriate treatment. If your child doesn’t seem to respond within 48 hours, we should see him or her in the office. You should also use an appropriate pain relief medication (acetaminophen or ibuprofen) and avoid swimming until the child is pain-free for 24 hours.

Q:  How can I prevent swimmer’s ear? My child seems to get it repeatedly. 

A:  The best way to prevent swimmer’s ear is to keep the ear canal as dry as possible. Preparing a combination of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar in equal amounts is a good prevention strategy. After the child is done being “wet” for the day, use a dropper to put a few drops of this mixture in each ear. The vinegar alters the pH of the canal to discourage bacterial growth, and the alcohol acts as a drying agent.