As parents, we work hard to ensure the safety of our children; they are our responsibility, and they trust us to take care of them. There are so many things that parents worry about, and their child’s overall health is probably one of the biggest, which includes their hearing health. When a baby is born, they have some immunity that they get from their mother, but their immune system is not fully developed yet – hence the reason children seem to get sick more often than adults.
Ear infections are one of the more common childhood illnesses. Parents and doctors should be extra vigilant to make sure to treat ear infections in a timely manner. Follow up visits are also important to make sure the infection is cleared and no hearing damage has been done. One type of ear infection that isn’t often talked about is swimmer’s ear.
What is swimmer’s ear?
Swimmer’s ear, also known as otitis externa, is an infection that happens from lasting water in the ear. It occurs in the outer ear canal vs. the inner ear, where the majority of childhood ear infections occur. We all know how bacteria likes moist, warm environments, which is why a damp ear canal is a perfect breeding ground for a bacterial infection.
Fortunately, our ears have a pretty good defense mechanism against this type of infection (yes, that ear wax is good stuff!) so most children won’t have a problem every time they go in the water. However, swimmer’s ear is still a fairly common condition.
One question we get asked a lot, is if repeated bouts of this infection can cause hearing loss. Well, the short answer is no, but it can cause temporary hearing loss. If it is severe enough, and left untreated however, it can damage the ear, which CAN cause permanent hearing loss. This is why it is important to treat swimmer’s ear infections and take precautions to help prevent it from occurring in the first place.
Symptoms of swimmer’s ear
The symptoms of swimmer’s ear are pretty straightforward:
- Redness of the ear
- Itching in the ear canal
- Discomfort in the ear when pressing down on it or pulling on the earlobe
- Clear discharge from the ear
- Temporary hearing loss – usually a muffled sound
Treatment of swimmer’s ear
Fortunately, swimmer’s ear can be easily treated by your pediatrician or family doctor. They will typically prescribe antibiotic eardrops that will take care of the infection within a few days. It is important to get in to your doctor as soon as possible though, to ensure the infection does not get any worse and cause more problems within the ear, including hearing loss.
Preventing swimmer’s ear
We mentioned earlier that not everyone who goes into the water will get swimmer’s ear. However, there are individuals who are prone to this type of infection for some reason. If you, or your child, happens to be one of those individuals, there are some easy tips to help avoid a repeat infection.
- Keep water out of your ear! There are swim molds or swim plugs you can purchase over the counter at most pharmacies that work extremely well. For frequent swimmers, you might want to consider having a custom-made swim mold from your audiologist or hearing care professional.
- If you swim in a pool, check to make sure that it is chlorinated or has some other sort of filtration system in place to cut down on bacteria.
- If you are a lake or river swimmer, you should also check the quality the water before you go swimming in it. Most towns and cities do regular testing of open water and will be able to tell you the bacterial information.