Rhonda Patt

Ask the Pediatrician: Swimmer’s Ear

Swimming in dirty water, such as lakes and ponds, is more likely to cause swimmer’s ear.
Swimming in dirty water, such as lakes and ponds, is more likely to cause swimmer’s ear. Getty Images/Hemera

Q. My daughter gets swimmer’s ear every summer. Is there anything I can do to prevent it?

A. Swimmer’s ear, also known as otitis externa, is an infection of the ear canal. Swimmer’s ear is caused by presence of bacteria in the ear canal and usually presents with ear pain. After swimming, water often remains in the ear canal and this moist environment promotes bacterial growth. Swimming in dirty water, such as lakes and ponds, is more likely to cause swimmer’s ear so preventive measure are particularly useful after a trip to the lake.

Here are some basic tips for the prevention of otits externa:

  • Attempt to dry the ears after swimming by using a towel to remove any visible water. Lean the head from side to side to allow water to drain out of the ear canals.
  • Do not put any objects down into the ear canal (such as earplugs, earbud headphones, or cotton swabs) because this could cause scratches in the canal and increase the risk of infection.
  • Prepare a mixture of equal parts rubbing alcohol and white vinegar. Infuse the ear canals with 3 mL of the solution after swimming. (Do not use if your child has ear tubes or a punctured ear drum.)

Swimmer’s ear is treated with antibiotic ear drops. Over-the-counter swimmer’s ear drops do not contain antibiotics and are not an effective treatment. If your child exhibits symptoms of swimmer’s ear, she should be evaluated by her healthcare provider to confirm the diagnosis and obtain treatment.

Dr. Rhonda Patt is a pediatrician with Charlotte Pediatric Clinic and past president of the Charlotte Pediatric Society. Dr. Patt answers questions from local parents in her weekly "Ask the Doctor" blog. If you’ve got a question you’d like answered please email Dr. Patt at: living@charlotteobserver.com and put “pediatrician” in the subject line.

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