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Ask Dr. Sears: Stopping Swimmer's Ear

Q. We love to play in the pool, but my child's prone to swimmer's ear. Can I prevent it?

A. My kids have battled this common ailment many times through the years. Although relatively harmless, it can certainly turn a fun activity into a painful experience.

Swimmer's ear, also called otitis externa, is an infection of the ear-canal lining. Usually, the lining's protective acidic coating staves off invading germs, but prolonged contact with water may wash it away. Signs of an infection typically include itching followed by pain. A good diagnostic clue: Your child winces when you pull on her earlobe and push it upward, which presses on the ear canal.

For kids prone to swimmer's ear, here's how to prevent it:

1. Show your child how to tilt and shake her head to one side after swimming, which encourages water to drain out of the ear.

2. Then roll a small piece of tissue and gently insert it into the opening of the canal to absorb the remaining water.

3. As an added prevention, you might try my homemade solution, which has worked for my kids as well as for others in my pediatric practice: Mix a mild acidic solution, such as white vinegar, with an equal amount of rubbing alcohol, then squirt at least five drops into both ears right after swimming. Let the drops stay in for a few minutes, and then drain. They'll help evaporate any water.

If your child does get swimmer's ear, keep her out of the pool and the infection should clear up within a few days. But if the ear becomes increasingly sore to the touch, your doctor may prescribe antibiotic eardrops and suggest ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin).

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