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Preventing Swimmer's Ear Infections

Q: My child manages to get swimmer's ear every summer. How can we avoid it?

A: Swimming is fun, but swimmer's ear is decidedly not. When water gets into the ear canal, it can irritate the skin, which can then become infected by bacteria (or, rarely, fungus). Medically, this condition is called otitis externa and results in a painful, swollen ear canal. Unlike otitis media (the common ear infection), otitis externa usually doesn't occur after a cold or have fever as a symptom. Rather, the ear is extremely tender, and pulling on a child's outer ear can make him scream in pain.

You can prevent swimmer's ear by keeping your kid out of the water, of course, but that hardly seems fair. If your child doesn't mind wearing them, get him a pair of tight-fitting earplugs or a swim cap that covers his ears. Or mix equal parts rubbing alcohol and white vinegar and put a few drops of the solution in each of your child's ears after swimming and showering, to help dry out the water and prevent infection. But don't use the solution if your child already has an infection--it might cause even more pain and misery. Your pediatrician will need to prescribe an antibiotic drop, and you can offer ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help with the pain.