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How Ear Infections Can Affect Children During Swim Lessons

Childhood is undoubtedly a time full of bumps, bruises and sniffles. Managing earaches and ear infections can also be a common feature of parenting young children. There are two main types of ear infections that affect children: middle ear and outer ear infections. They are caused by different things and generally treated in different ways.

Learn more about ear infections and how having an ear infection might impact your child’s swimming and swim lessons at Big Blue.

What is a middle ear infection?

One type of ear infection, called acute otitis media, occurs when the middle ear (the area behind the eardrum) becomes inflamed, traps fluid and leads to an infection. It can develop after a bout with a common cold or flu and by some bacteria, but it is not caused by water being trapped in the middle ear.

A middle ear infection is one of the more common childhood ailments. A child’s eustachian tube, which runs from the middle ear to the throat, can become blocked easier than an adult’s because it is shorter and more horizontal during childhood.

Symptom onset of a middle ear infection can happen quickly with fever, drainage and a headache commonly seen. You may also notice a decrease in appetite. A classic tell for parents is a child tugging on their ear. Other behaviors like increased crying, fussiness, sleep troubles, or being less reactive to sounds can indicate a middle ear infection.

Many middle ear infections caused by viruses clear up without antibiotics. If symptoms persist or progress for more than 24 hours, a pediatrician can help decide if antibiotics are required.

What is an outer ear canal infection or swimmer’s ear?

When water stays in the outer ear canal for too long, it creates an ideal, moist environment for bacterial growth. The bacterial infection that can develop in the outer ear canal is otitis externa, more commonly known as swimmer’s ear. While swimmer’s ear can happen to anyone, children develop it most frequently. The good news for parents is that it is not contagious.

Swimmer’s ear can be extremely painful. Your child may experience pain when pressure is applied to the outer ear or when the ear is tugged. Itchiness inside the ear or drainage, redness and swelling may also occur.

If your child has ear pain or drainage, check with your pediatrician. Antibiotic ear drops are needed to clear up swimmer’s ear.

Curious if your child has swimmer’s ear or a middle ear infection? According to the CDC, “if you can wiggle the outer ear without pain or discomfort then your ear condition is probably not swimmer’s ear.”

To help prevent swimmer’s ear, dry your child’s ears thoroughly after swimming. You could consider a swim cap or earplugs as well. Have your child tilt their head to each side after swimming to help get water out of the ear. Some parents use a hairdryer on a low setting and several inches from the ear to help move water through the ear canal. Before using ear-drying drops, check with your pediatrician as they are not recommended for swimmer’s ear.

Can my child swim with an ear infection?

Going underwater is not recommended with acute otitis media if it causes pain, but playing in the water and not submerging the ears is ok. If your child is not feeling pain, being in the pool will not worsen a middle ear infection.

If your child is comfortable swimming with a middle ear infection, dry your child’s ears after time in the water so they do not also develop swimmer’s ear. Remember, it’s always good to check with your pediatrician for their recommendations.

If your child has swimmer’s ear, it is recommended to wait until a doctor’s ok, usually 7-10 days, before resuming swim lessons.

We want swimming to be a positive and enjoyable experience at Big Blue. We also want to make rescheduling a missed lesson a breeze. If your child isn’t feeling well, keep your young swimmer home. You can easily let us know you’ll be missing a lesson and schedule a make-up lesson at a time convenient for you.  <Learn more>