Ear - Swimmer's
Urgent or Emergency Care?
If you believe your child needs immediate attention and you have concerns for a life-threatening emergency, call 911. Not sure what counts as urgent and what's an emergency when your child is sick or injured? When it can't wait, know where to take your kids.
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- An infection or irritation of the skin that lines the ear canal
- The ear canal is itchy or painful
- Caused by lots of swimming or using cotton swabs
Symptoms of Swimmer's Ear
- Starts with an itchy ear canal
- Ear canal can become painful
- Pain gets worse when you press on the tragus. (The tragus is the tab of tissue in front of the ear.)
- The ear feels plugged or full
- Ear discharge may start as the swimmer's ear gets worse
- No cold symptoms or fever
Cause of Swimmer's Ear
- Water gets trapped in the ear canal. Then, the lining becomes wet and swollen.
- This makes it prone to an infection with germs (swimmer's ear).
- Wax buildup also traps water behind it. Most often, this is caused by cotton swabs.
- Ear canals were meant to be dry.
Call Doctor Now or Go to ER
- Severe ear pain and not improved after using care advice
- Redness and swelling of outer ear
- Fever over 104° F (40° C)
- Your child looks or acts very sick
- You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent
Call Doctor Within 24 Hours
- Yellow discharge or pus from ear canal
- Blocked ear canal
- Swollen lymph node near ear
- You are not sure that ear pain is caused by swimmer's ear
- Ear symptoms last over 7 days on treatment
- You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent
Call Doctor During Office Hours
- You have other questions or concerns
Self Care at Home
- Swimmer's ear with no complications
Care Advice for Mild Swimmer's Ear
- What You Should Know About Swimmer's Ear:
- Swimmer's ear is a mild infection of the ear canal.
- It's caused by water getting trapped in the ear canal. Ear canals were meant to be dry.
- Here is some care advice that should help.
- White Vinegar Rinses:
- Rinse the ear canals with half-strength white vinegar. Mix vinegar with equal parts warm water. Exception: ear tubes or hole in eardrum.
- Start by having your child lie down with the painful ear upward.
- Fill the ear canal.
- Wait 5 minutes. Then, turn your child's head to the side and move the ear. This will remove the vinegar rinse.
- Do the other side.
- Continue twice a day until the ear canal returns to normal.
- Reason: Restores the normal acid pH of the ear canal and lessens swelling.
- Pain Medicine:
- To help with the pain, give an acetaminophen product (such as Tylenol).
- Another choice is an ibuprofen product (such as Advil).
- Use as needed.
- Heat For Pain:
- If pain is moderate to severe, use a heating pad (set on low). You can also use a warm wet cloth to outer ear.
- Do this for 20 minutes. (Caution: Avoid burns). Repeat as needed.
- This will also increase drainage.
- Reduce Swimming Times:
- Try not to swim until symptoms are gone.
- If on a swim team, it's usually okay to continue.
- Swimming may slow your child's recovery, but causes no serious harm.
- Return to School:
- Swimmer's ear cannot be spread to others.
- What to Expect:
- With treatment, symptoms should be better in 3 days.
- They should be gone in 7 days.
- Prevention of Swimmer's Ear:
- Try to keep the ear canals dry.
- After showers, hair washing, or swimming, help the water run out of ears. Do this by turning the head.
- Do not use cotton swabs. Reason: Packs in the earwax. The wax buildup then traps water behind it.
- If swimmer's ear is a frequent problem, rinse the ear canals after swimming. Use a few drops of a white vinegar-rubbing alcohol rinse. Use equal parts of each to make the rinse.
- Call Your Doctor If:
- Ear pain becomes severe
- Ear symptoms last over 7 days on treatment
- You think your child needs to be seen
- Your child becomes worse
The information contained in these topics is not intended nor implied 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.
Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Nothing contained in these topics is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment.
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Supplement - The information and materials presented here in Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker are meant to supplement the information that you obtain from your physician. If there is a disagreement between the information presented herein and what your physician has told you -- it is more likely that your physician is correct. He or she has the benefit of knowing your child's medical problems.
Limitations - You should recognize that the information and materials presented here in Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker have the following limitations, in comparison to being examined by your own physician:
- You can have a conversation with your child's doctor.
- Your child's doctor can perform a physical examination and any necessary tests.
- Your child could have an underlying medical problem that requires a physician to detect.
- If your child is taking medications, they could influence how he experiences various symptoms.
If you think that your child is having a medical emergency, call 911 or the number for the local emergency ambulance service NOW!
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