My sister-in-law called last night for help. My niece was sobbing in pain. Every time she touched her ear it hurt. Even when she wasn’t putting pressure on it there was pretty intense pain and this 7th grader is not a complainer. Annie is a competitive swimmer and her mom knew the tell-tale signs of swimmers ear and called hoping to start some ear drops sooner rather than later.
Swimmers ear is an infection of the ear canal. It happens when water gets in and sits there making the skin of the ear canal soggy and allowing bacteria that can be found on your skin or in lake and pool water (even with good chlorination) to invade causing swelling and intense pain. Sometimes the swelling can be so extreme that the ear canal is practically swollen shut. Lake water exposure is worse than pool water, but either can be a cause.
Treatment for swimmers ear is straightforward: prescription antibiotic ear drops usually with some steroid to decrease inflammation can help. It can take a few days, though, for the drops to work their magic and the pain can be pretty intense. Using ibuprofen helps but some kids need codeine when the pain is really bad.
When the swelling is severe, placing an ear wick in the canal can help too. An ear wick is a thin wick (like a candle wick) that fits snugly in the swollen canal and allows the ear drop to be absorbed and distributed evenly along the whole ear canal.
Preventing swimmers ear is best. Ear wax is nature’s prevention. Ear wax prevents much water from getting in, so don’t try to remove ear wax! The next best strategy is to use a hair dryer on a cool, low setting at the end of each day you’ve been swimming to dry up any water remaining. Over-the- counter drying drops are also available as are homemade drops, which are a 1 to 1 mixture of rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide. Put a couple of drops in the canal each night after swimming to prevent swimmers ear.