Along with the sunscreen, pool toys and beach chairs, be sure to tuck a small plastic bottle of denatured alcohol or over-the-counter swimmer’s ear drops into your family’s summer travel bag. The additions are the simplest defenses against swimmer’s ear, a bacterial ear infection often contracted by kids.
“If kids are going to the pool every day, it’s going to be real important to keep the ears dry when they get out,” said Dr. Misty Shores, an audiologist at Spokane’s Holy Family Hospital Hearing and Speech Center and Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital.
Same goes for lakes, she said.
Shores said to keep fun-busting bacteria from ruining summer entertainment, eliminate them with a 50-50 solution of alcohol and tap water. A few drops into the ear canal after a day’s water activities will help ward off infections.
Without prevention, water-borne bacteria may take up residence in kids’ ears. And though they’re different than middle-ear infections from colds, swimmer’s ear can be every bit as painful, Shores said.
The first signs are itchy, red, swollen ears that ache when touched. In the nastiest cases, kids become nauseated from a loss of balance, regulated by the inner ear.
That can ruin a summer vacation and keep sufferers topside for a week or more.
To kill the bacteria, antibiotics in ear drops or taken orally are usually prescribed. Children’s pain medication helps relieve discomfort, Shores said.
With early detection, it’s easier to stem the infection’s spread in your little mermaids and pirates.
Should your child come down with swimmer’s ear on a return trip from your favorite water world, it’s probably OK to wait until you get home to take them to your pediatrician, Shores said.
Severe cases, on the other hand, should be treated as soon as possible by a medical professional, she said.
Shores stressed that children who have tubes inserted in their ears are most at risk and should also wear ear plugs.
Custom ear plugs are available and may be worth the estimated $100 price tag if kids will be able to use them for more than one season. At the other end of the spectrum are inexpensive silicone versions sold in drug stores.
Children with ear tubes shouldn’t submerge their heads without ear plugs because the tubes are basically putting a hole in the eardrum, Shores said. “Water will go right through to the middle ear; bacteria will build up and cause an infection,” Shores said.