Swimmer's Ear

A little girl at edge of a pool with swimmer's ear pain in Austin.

Swimmer’s ear is a common cause of earache in children who like to be in the water. This article will talk about the condition, including the causes, symptoms, and treatments.

If you are looking for a doctor to evaluate your child’s ear pain, why not call Pediatric Associates of Austin? Our pediatric doctors in Austin, Texas, are on hand to make your child feel better. Contact our office today!

What is Swimmer’s Ear (Otitis Externa)?

Swimmer’s ear refers to an infection of the skin inside the ear canal or outer ear. It is called swimmer’s ear because it often occurs after swimming or other activities where water can get in the ears.

How to Know If a Child Has Swimmer’s Ear

Symptoms of swimmer’s ear could include the following:

  • Ear pain can be severe and worsens when the outer part of the ear is pulled or pressed on.
  • Pain may also be experienced while chewing.
  • Itching of the ear canal, sometimes before they feel pain.
  • Swelling of the ear canal, leading to a sensation of fullness or discomfort in the ear.
  • Redness or swelling of the outer ear.
  • Enlarged and tender lymph nodes around the ear.
  • Discharge from the ear canal, starting clear and becoming cloudy, yellowish, or pus-like.
  • Temporary hearing loss due to pus or swelling blocking the ear canal.

Most children with swimmer’s ear do not have a fever.

What Are the Causes of Swimmer’s Ear?

Swimmer’s ear can occur after your child has spent time in the water. The extra moisture inside the ear can irritate the ear canal and allow bacteria or fungi to grow. Swimmer’s ear is a common summertime condition as kids often play in water more during these times.

Swimming is not the only way a kid will get swimmer’s ear. Anything that causes damage to the skin in the outer ear can lead to an infection. Damage can be caused by the following:

  • Dry skin or eczema
  • Scratching the ear canal
  • Incorrect use of cotton swabs to clean the ear
  • Putting any foreign object into the ear

Swimmer’s ear can also start with a middle ear infection. The pus can drain out of the middle ear into the ear canal through a hole in the eardrum.

How Swimmer’s Ear is Diagnosed

Swimmer’s ear can be diagnosed during a visit to the doctor. Your doctor will consider your child’s symptoms and carry out a physical examination. Your doctor will use an otoscope to check for signs like redness, swelling, and scaling in the ear canal, and examine the eardrum for damage. If the view is blocked, specialized instruments are used to clear the ear canal.

Further evaluation may be necessary depending on the severity of your child’s symptoms or the stage of their infection. This can include testing fluid samples from the ear to identify bacteria or fungi. If there’s eardrum damage or advanced infection, a referral to an ear, nose, and throat specialist may be made to ensure appropriate treatment.

In cases where initial treatment doesn’t improve the infection, additional samples may be collected during follow-up appointments. These samples are sent to a lab to identify the specific microorganism causing the infection, guiding further treatment decisions. While diagnosis is usually straightforward, further evaluation may be needed for effective management, especially in persistent or recurrent infections.

How is Swimmer’s Ear Treated?

The treatment strategy for swimmer’s ear varies based on the severity of the infection and the level of discomfort experienced. Typically, healthcare providers prescribe ear drops containing antibiotics to combat the infection. These ear drops are often combined with a medication to reduce ear canal swelling. They are administered multiple times a day for a period of 7–10 days.

In cases where a swollen ear canal impedes the application of antibiotic ear drops, doctors may insert a small sponge (known as a wick) to aid in delivering the medication inside the ear. Occasionally, gentle cleaning or suction may be necessary to remove pus and other debris from the ear, facilitating the effectiveness of the ear drops.

For more severe infections, healthcare providers may give oral antibiotics and may conduct tests on ear discharge to identify the specific bacteria or fungi responsible for the infection.

Over-the-counter pain relievers are often sufficient to manage ear pain. Your child should feel better within a day or two, and swimmer’s ear is usually resolved within 7–10 days.

When to Seek Medical Attention

It’s important to contact a doctor immediately if a child experiences ear pain with or without fever, reduced hearing in one or both ears, or unusual discharge from the ear.

Preventing Swimmer’s Ear

To prevent swimmer’s ear, use over-the-counter ear drops containing a diluted solution of acetic acid or alcohol after swimming. This can be beneficial, particularly for children prone to recurrent infections. However, ear drops should not be used in children with ear tubes or a perforated eardrum.

To avoid ear injuries, young children should refrain from attempting to clean their ears themselves, and objects should never be inserted into their ears, including cotton-tipped swabs. It’s recommended to dry the ears thoroughly after exposure to water, using a hair dryer on the cool setting.

Schedule an Appointment Today

Is your child experiencing ear pain? Contact Pediatric Associates of Austin to have their ear pain evaluated by our pediatric doctors. We’re here to help your child feel better. Visit our office in Austin, Texas, today!


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