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June 18th, 2016

Summer’s here – so is swimmer’s ear. 4 tips to treat and prevent it

By Amy Albin

For many kids, spending hours in the water this summer can bring on a painful infection of the external ear canal called swimmer’s ear.

One study published in the journal Environmental Health estimated that there are at least 128 million swimming events in natural waters in the U.S. each year.  This exposure could result in about 900,000 cases of swimmer’s ear leading to 260,000 visits to the doctor, the study says, plus almost 40,000 visits to the emergency room and nearly $4 million dollars in out-of-pocket expenditures on prescription and over-the-counter medications.

While other types of ear infections cause pain on the inside of the ear, swimmer’s ear causes pain when the ear is touched externally.

“Swimmer’s ear is a bacterial or fungal infection caused by water caught in the ear canal,” said Dr. Nina Shapiro, a professor of head and neck surgery and director of pediatric otolaryngology at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA. “The tell-tale signs are swelling of the ear canal and some drainage or discharge.”

swimmersearSwimmer’s ear is usually treated with topical ear drops, antibiotic drops or antifungal drops prescribed by a doctor.

The good news is that the infection can be prevented with a few simple tips:

  • After swimming, use the corner of a washcloth or a towel to dry the ear.
  • If a hair dryer is available, use the low setting and position the dryer about 1 foot away from the ear to dry it.
  • Never use a cotton swab to clean or dry the ear canal, because it can injure the ear drum.
  • Over-the-counter ear drops to prevent swimmer’s ear are available, but Shapiro does not recommend them for kids who have ear tubes, ruptured eardrums or have had ear surgery.

Visit https://uclahealth.org/mattel for more information on children’s health.

Tags: Children’s Health, childrens health, Dr. Nina Shapiro, head and neck surgery, News & Insights, pediatric otolaryngology, Pediatrics, Primary Care, swimmer’s ear

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