Now that you know a lot more about swimmer’s ear and how to treat it, here are some tips that may prevent the condition from developing the next time your holiday plans or family routine include fun on the water.
1. Keep the wax intact.
Earwax protects against foreign objects entering the ear canal and helps repel water. Its acidic pH also helps prevent the overgrowth of microorganisms. Removing the wax removes the moisture barrier, leaving exposed wet skin vulnerable to infection. Cotton buds, fingers and other instruments used to remove wax can scratch the ear canal, creating an additional avenue for infection. If you feel your child has a problematic amount of earwax, consult your doctor.
2. Shake out water.
If water is trapped in the ear canal after swimming or bathing—you know, sounds are muffled and your child can feel/hear it sloshing around in there—try this technique: Stand on one foot, tilt head in the direction of an affected ear and hop, hop, hop on that leg until the water is released (this can sometimes take quite a few hops!). Repeat on the other side. Do this after every swimming session and when needed after bathing. Make a game of this for your littlest ones, who can’t always tell you what’s going on inside their ears.
3. Use preventative eardrops.
Try this for frequent swimmers or during a holiday involving water sports: Get inexpensive eardrops made from rubbing alcohol/surgical spirits combined with boric acid or acetic acid from the chemist. Have your child lie on his side, and fill the ear canal with drops. After 5 minutes, have him turn over and repeat with the other side. Do this after each session or after a long day of swimming. Although it’s not clear whether any type of treatment prevents the recurrence of swimmer’s ear, many doctors feel that such eardrops help to dry the ear, prevent skin injury and reacidify the ear canal. Many parents of swimmers attest that this ounce of prevention is very helpful.
4. Blowdry ears.
Yes, you read that right. You can try this with older children. Remember, the blow dryer must be held at least 30 cm/12 inches away from the ear and used on the low setting, to avoid burning the skin and damaging the eardrum with a forceful flow of air. Half a minute or so should do the trick.
5. Use earplugs.
For a competitive or frequent swimmer, or one who does a lot of diving and underwater swimming, you may want to try special swimmer’s earplugs. If you travel abroad frequently, a special wax for fashioning your own earplugs may be available in some countries. Consider this solution especially if your child gets swimmer’s ear often, despite following the first 4 tips.