Swimmer's ear is an infection of the ear
canal. If you stick your finger in your ear, you're feeling a little of the ear
canal. But if you have swimmer's ear, and you stick your finger in your ear —
YOW! Let's find out more about this painful type of ear infection, which often affects
How Does Swimmer's Ear Happen?
Swimmer's ear — also called otitis externa (say: o-TY-tus
ek-STUR-nuh) — is different from a regular ear infection. Usually, when people
say a kid has an ear infection, they mean otitis media (say: ME-dee-uh),
an infection of the middle
ear. This sometimes happens when a kid gets a cold.
But swimmer's ear happens when bacteria
grow in the ear canal, which is a passageway to the eardrum.
In that canal, you'll find delicate skin
that's protected by a thin coating of earwax.
Most of the time, water can run in and out of the ear canal without causing a problem.
For instance, you don't usually get swimmer's ear from taking baths or showers.
Bacteria get a chance to grow when water stays in the ear canal. A lot of swimming
can lead to these wet conditions in the ear canal. Bacteria grow and the ear canal
gets red and swollen. Sometimes kids can get an infection in the ear canal even if
they haven't been swimming. A scratch or other irritation to the ear canal can also
lead to swimmer's ear.
How Do I Know if I Have Swimmer's Ear?
Swimmer's ear may start with some itching, but try not to scratch because this
can make the infection worse. Ear pain is the most common sign of
swimmer's ear. Even touching or bumping the outside of the ear can hurt. The infection
also could make it harder to hear with the infected ear because of the swelling that
happens in the ear canal.
If a doctor thinks you
have swimmer's ear, he or she will help you get rid of the infection. To do that,
the doctor will probably prescribe ear drops that contain an antibiotic to kill the
bacteria. Sometimes, the doctor may use a wick. Not the wick on a candle! This kind
of wick is like a tiny sponge the doctor puts in your ear. The medicine goes into
the sponge and it keeps the medicine in contact with the ear canal that's infected.
The wick is removed after it has done its job.
Use the drops as long as your doctor tells you to, even if your ear starts feeling
better. Stopping too soon can cause the infection to come back. If your ear hurts,
the doctor may suggest that a parent give you a pain reliever.
This can help you feel better while you're waiting for the antibiotic to work.
When Can I Go Back in the Pool?
The question every kid wants to know is: "When can I swim again?" You'll have to
ask your doctor, but be prepared to wait a little bit. It could be as long as a week
to 10 days before the doctor says OK. That's a bummer in the summer, but it's better
than having that awful ear pain again!
If you have a big problem with swimmer's ear or you're a kid who's always in the
water, the doctor may suggest ways for you to protect yourself. For instance, your
mom or dad can get some special drops to put in your ears after swimming to dry up
the water in there. It's an extra step that just might keep your ears in super shape