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Katy, Texas – August 1, 2016
Summer in Houston means hot, humid weather with many people going to swimming pools, lakes and the beach to find relief from the heat. With all of the water fun, we see more and more children with swimmer’s ear, otitis externa (OE).

A beautiful African American child swimming

OE can occur in both the ear and the ear canal and starts when excess water gets trapped in the canal, causing skin breakdown and allowing bacteria cultivation. The excess water usually comes from swimming, thus creating the term for the infection – swimmer’s ear. However OE can come from other causes as well, including moisture retention from showering, headphones, trauma of the canal from the use of cotton swabs, and alteration of the pH of the ear canal. Some kids can go swimming all summer long and not get swimmer’s ear, but some could get the infection right after a shower. No one can totally explain it.

Usually there are several symptoms with the most pressing symptom being a sharp, “stabbing” pain. Don’t underestimate the severity of the pain associated with this relatively “simple” problem. Even though swimmer’s ear is rarely serious, it can be a very painful condition due to the plentiful supply of nerves to this area of the body. Other symptoms include swelling of the ear canal, itching, drainage and hearing loss. 

Typically, swimmer’s ear can be treated quickly. Usually your child’s doctor can use a suction device to remove debris and discharge in the canal. Your doctor may also prescribe antibacterial ear drops and ibuprofen as a pain killer. Sometimes the swelling is so great that the opening to the external auditory canal is totally closed and drops will be prevented from reaching the walls of the ear canal. In these cases, your child’s physician will likely position a small wick in the external canal to draw the medication down the swollen canal. The wick, which functions as a straw carrying the drops to the infected area, usually remains in place for 72 hours. The wick can be removed easily and the drops should be continued for a period of days.

In order to decrease episodes of swimmer’s ear it is best to use ear plugs when swimming and carefully dry the external canal after getting out of the water. I recommend drying the canal with a hair dryer on a low setting or using a terry cloth towel over your index finger and inserting it into your child’s ear canal to absorb any excess water.  In addition, avoid using cotton swabs to remove the moisture in the ear canal as this will frequently cause trauma.

Using these simple tips should help you and your child enjoy all of the water related activities that are so popular. So keep those ear canals dry, wear sunscreen and have a healthy summer!

Content Courtesy of Texas Children’s Hospital 

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