Q: My family is going on a spring vacation in a few weeks. My son is prone to swimmer’s ear every year when we hit the beach. What can we do to prevent it this trip?
A: Swimmer’s ear is definitely preventable, and we highly recommend taking the necessary steps to avoid the pain it can cause during a vacation. Swimmer’s ear, or external otitis media, is a bacterial infection of the outer ear and ear canal and is most common among teenagers and young adults. However, we know there is no specific age when external otitis media hits. We have seen this occur in everyone from young children to avid adult swimmers.
External otitis media is typically caused by excessive exposure to water, primarily from swimming and other water sports. Divers may suffer more than lap swimmers. This condition starts as an itch and turns into swelling and pain. Eventually it can cause the lymph nodes of the neck to enlarge, and it can even turn into temporary hearing loss.
The goal is to enjoy swimming and not suffer from an episode of external otitis media, which may cause a grave event. So, individuals that frequently suffer from swimmer’s ear and people planning to spend an extended amount of time exposed to water should take steps to avoid this infection.
It’s essential to prevent moisture from entering the ear, and there are different styles of earplugs that can be worn to keep the ears dry. There are custom-made earplugs, which are usually formed from an impression of the ear. This style allows the least amount of leakage to enter the ear canal. Doc Plugs are another type. These plugs, which fit into the ear, come in different sizes and prevent water from entering.
Special eardrops can be used in the ear after water exposure to ensure the ear stays free of any moisture. In addition, it’s always imperative to keep the ear free of any wax, which can trap bacteria in the ear and cause infection. It may be necessary to visit a physician to clean the ears prior to a trip. The treatment for swimmer’s ear can be either an oral antibiotic or prescription ear drops.
The good news is, swimmer’s ear can be avoided with proper year-round ear care. Northwest Ohio Hearing Clinic can make custom earplugs to help you or your child avoid swimmer’s ear on your next trip—it may just be the most important thing you pack! ❦