Parent Information

Swimmer’s Ear (Otitis Externa)

Swimmer's Ear is an infection of the outer ear, or ear canal.  The introduction of excess moisture in the ear canal allows bacteria to grow, causing swelling and inflammation of the canal.  Compared to a middle ear infection ("otitis media"), where symptoms such as malaise, fever, runny nose and eye discharge commonly accompany the painful ear, the presentation of Swimmer's Ear is generally localized to pain and tenderness of the affected ear(s).  This discomfort can be elicited by tugging gently on the earlobe or pressing over the entrance to the ear canal.

Swimmer's Ear is treated by ear drops that contain an antibiotic and a topical anti-inflammatory steroid.  Occasionally if the infection is severe oral antibiotics are given as well.  If the pain is severe, a warm wet compress behind the ear as well as an analgesic (Tylenol or ibuprofen) may be helpful.

While swimming is the most common cause of otitis externa, an outer ear infection can also be caused by a middle ear infection that drains through a hole in the eardrum.  It is important for us to distinguish between the two causes because if your child has a middle ear infection (otitis media) as well as an otitis externa, he or she will need oral antibiotics.

We recommend that your child not immerse his/her head under water until he/she has had 5 days of medication and is symptom free.

Since certain individuals are susceptible to recurrences (especially those who swim frequently), the most effect practice is instillation of 50/50 alcohol-peroxide mix immediately after swimming.  Over-the-counter preparations such as "Swim Ear" may be used as well. These solutions dry the ear canal and keep the acid-base balance at a level that inhibits bacterial overgrowth.

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