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Vincent Iannelli, M.D.

CDC Updates Swimmer's Ear Prevention Guidelines

By May 19, 2011

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Most parents don't think of swimmer's ear as a very serious condition.

When their child is diagnosed with swimmer's ear, or an outer ear infection, most are happy that it isn't a 'regular' or inner ear infection. Some even think that they wasted their time coming to the pediatrician, despite the fact that swimmer's ear still needs to be treated.

Surprisingly, a new report from the CDC, 'Estimated Burden of Acute Otitis Externa -- United States, 2003-2007,' states that 'swimmer's ear leads to about 2.4 million doctor visits each year and is responsible for nearly $500 million dollars in annual health care costs.'

Since cases peak in the summer swimming season and are most common in kids, it makes it important for parents to review the updated recommendations to prevent swimmer's ear:

  • When around water, keep your ears as dry as possible by using a bathing cap, ear plugs, or a custom-fitted swim molds
  • Dry ears after swimming or showering with a towel, by tilting your head and pulling your earlobe in different directions while your ear is facing down
  • Refrain from putting objects in the ear canal, such as cotton swabs or your finger, or removing ear wax yourself because both can damage the skin in the ear, potentially increasing the risk of infection
  • Talk to your doctor about whether you should use alcohol-based ear drops after swimming

So how do you get your kids to keep their ears dry when they are swimming, splashing, and playing in the water?

Although some experts think that earplugs are irritating and can lead to swimmer's ear, if you want, you can keep water out of your kids' ears by using a barrier, like earplugs, including Mack's AquaBlock Earplugs or their Pillow Soft silicone Earplugs. If your kids have a hard time keeping their earplugs in, consider also using the Aqua-Earband or Ear Band-It neoprene swimmer's headband.

In general, you can also try and prevent swimmer's ear by using an over-the-counter ear drying agent that contains isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol), such as Auro-Dri or Swim Ear, or one with acetic acid and aluminum acetate (Star-Otic).

If you like, you can create your own homemade swimmer's ear prevention solution by mixing equal parts of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar, and putting it in your child's ears after he swims. Don't use any kind of drops with alcohol in your child's ear if he has ear tubes or an ear perforation though.

Keep in mind that many kids seem to get swimmer's ear once, at the beginning of swimming season, and don't go on to have continuing problems with their ears, so going to a lot of fuss with ear plugs or swim ear drops might not be necessary.

Also remember that over-the-counter swimmer's ear drops are for prevention. If you use them once your child has ear pain, they will likely burn and make it worse. Ear pain, especially when you move or touch your child's outer ear, is a typical sign of swimmer's ear, and usually means that you should see your pediatrician for treatment.

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