Should Your Child See a Doctor?
- An infection or irritation of the skin that lines the ear canal
- Has recently been swimming or gotten lots of water in the ear canals
- Itchy and somewhat painful ear canal
- Discomfort when the ear is moved up and down
- The ear feels plugged or full
- Discharge may develop as the swimmer's ear becomes worse
- When water repeatedly gets trapped in the ear canal, the lining becomes wet and swollen.
- This makes it prone to a bacterial superficial infection (swimmer's ear).
- Wax buildup also traps water behind it. Usually, this is caused by cotton swabs.
- Ear canals were meant to be dry.
Return to School
- Swimmer's ear is not contagious. No need to miss any school or child care.
When to Call Your Doctor for Ear - Swimmer's
Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If
- Your child looks or acts very sick
- Severe pain
- Redness and swelling of outer ear
- Fever over 104° F (40° C) and not improved 2 hours after fever medicine
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
- You think your child needs to be seen
- Constant ear pain
- Yellow discharge from ear canal
- Blocked ear canal
- Swollen lymph node near ear
- Cause is uncertain (no swimming)
- Ear symptoms last over 7 days on treatment
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If
- You have other questions or concerns
Parent Care at Home If
- Swimmer's ear with no complications
Home Care Advice for Mild Swimmer's Ear
- White Vinegar Rinses:
- Rinse the ear canals twice a day with ½ strength white vinegar (dilute it with equal parts warm water).
- Start by having your child lie down with the affected ear upward.
- Fill the ear canal.
- Wait 5 minutes, then remove the vinegar rinse by turning the head to the side and moving the ear. (Exception: ear tubes or hole in eardrum.)
- Reason: restores the normal acid pH of the ear canal and reduces swelling.
- Continue until the ear canal returns to normal.
- Pain Medicine: Give acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) or ibuprofen for pain relief.
- Local Heat: If pain is moderate to severe, apply a heating pad (set on low) or hot water bottle to outer ear for 20 minutes (caution: avoid burns). This will also increase drainage.
- Reduce Swimming Times: Try to avoid swimming until symptoms are gone. If on a swim team, it's usually OK to continue. Swimming may slow recovery, but causes no serious harm.
- Contagiousness: Swimmer's ear is not contagious.
- Expected Course: With treatment, symptoms should be improved in 3 days and resolved in 7 days.
- Prevention of Recurrences:
- Try to keep the ear canals dry.
- After showers, hair washing, and swimming, help the water run out by turning the head.
- Avoid cotton swabs. (Reason: Packs in the earwax. The wax buildup then traps water behind it).
- If swimmer's ear is a repeated problem, rinse the ear canals after swimming with a white vinegar-rubbing alcohol solution (equal parts of each).
- Call Your Doctor If:
- Ear symptoms last over 7 days on treatment
- Your child becomes worse
And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "When to Call Your Doctor" symptoms.
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This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.
Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.
Last Reviewed: 8/1/2010
Last Revised: 10/1/2010
Copyright 1994-2011 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.