Recognizing the signs of swimmer’s ear, tips to prevent it

As more people are jumping in the water, it's important to know how to prevent ear infections such as swimmer's ear.
Published: Jun. 27, 2023 at 7:44 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Local temperatures sticking around in the 90s means that many will likely want to cool off in the pool or ocean.

However, beachgoers and those headed to the pool should stay aware of the potential issues that water in your ears can cause.

If your child’s ear is hurting, the cause could be an ear infection, and what’s more commonly seen in the summer months is swimmer’s ear. Across the country, swimmer’s ear leads to about 2.4 million doctor visits per year, most of which occur during the summer months.

Whether you’re jumping in the pool or ocean, some tactics can be used to help prevent getting an ear infection.

The number one rule is to try to keep your ears as dry as possible. That means using a swimming cap over your head or earplugs and using a towel to dry your ears after getting out of the water.

There are many indicators that you may have an infection in your ears, but noticing an infection affecting a child can be more difficult.

“Some of the signs and symptoms for ear infections can present as ear pain, hearing loss, you can have fever, chills, drainage or pus coming out of your ear. For little children, it can sometimes be a little different, you may notice that they may be tugging at their ears a little bit and kids may come off initially as a little bit irritable or have difficulty sleeping,” said Jennifer Blondin, Novant Health family nurse practitioner.

Blondin also covers what should be done after getting out of the water to prevent getting an ear infection.

“If you know you’re going to be swimming, whether it’s the pool, the ocean after you’re done always try to make sure you kind of tilt your head to one side and make sure you get some of that water to drain out and the other side, and then using some sort of soft towel or cloth wipe externally, get any additional fluid out,” said Blondin.

What causes the infection in the first place is water remaining in the outer ear canal for a long period, providing a moist environment for bacteria to grow. Wiping the ear dry after swimming is the best practice for staying healthy.

Some cases of untreated infection can lead to hearing loss.

“Untreated inner ear infections can put you at risk of hearing loss. That’s one of the big things that we want to just make sure that we’re treating it correctly. In terms of over-the-counter meds, typically, we recommend, over-the-counter acetaminophen, ibuprofen and you can do warm compresses to help your external ear,” said Blondin.

To find out more about swimmer’s ear, click here to see the CDC recommendations.