Swimmer’s Ear in Children

What is swimmer’s ear in children?

Swimmer’s ear (otitis externa) is an inflammation of the external ear canal. Swimmer’s ear is caused by fungi or bacteria. Water that stays in the ear canal during swimming, for example, may let bacteria and fungi grow.

What causes swimmer’s ear in a child?

Many different things can make it more likely for your child to get swimmer’s ear. Swimming or being in other wet, humid conditions are common causes. Other possible conditions that may lead to the development of swimmer’s ear include:

  • Rough cleaning of the ear canal
  • Injury to the ear canal
  • Dry skin in the ear canal
  • Foreign object in the ear canal
  • Too much earwax
  • Skin conditions such as eczema and other kinds of dermatitis

Which children are at risk for swimmer’s ear?

Children are more likely to get swimmer’s ear if they:

  • Go swimming for long periods of time, especially in lake water. Less likely in appropriately maintained recreational pools or ocean. 
  • Failure to remove excess moisture after swimming
  • Injury the ear canal, such as cleaning it too often or scratching it
  • Use hearing aids, earphones, or swimming caps
  • Have skin irritation from allergies or other skin conditions
  • Narrow ear canal

What are the symptoms of swimmer’s ear in a child?

Swimmer’s ear can cause the following symptoms:

  • Redness of the outer ear
  • Itching in the ear
  • Pain, especially when touching or wiggling the ear lobe
  • Drainage from the ear
  • Swollen glands in the neck
  • Swollen ear canal
  • Muffled hearing or hearing loss
  • Full or plugged-up feeling in the ear

The symptoms of swimmer’s ear may look like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is swimmer’s ear diagnosed in a child?

Your child’s healthcare provider will ask questions about your child’s health history and current symptoms. He or she will examine your child, including the ears. The provider may use a lighted instrument called an otoscope to look in your child’s ear. This will help the provider know if there is also an infection in the middle ear called otitis media. Although this infection usually does not occur with swimmer’s ear, some children may have both types of infections.

Your child’s healthcare provider may also take a culture of the drainage from the ear to help figure out the best treatment.