Swimmer’s Ear in Babies

What is Swimmer’s ear?

Swimmer’s ear is when the external ear canal (the area just inside your baby’s ear) becomes inflamed.  It is referred to as an Outer ear infection or Otitis externa.


What causes it?

Swimmer’s ear is usually caused by a bacterial or a fungal infection.  Babies are more prone to the condition if:

  • Excessive water enters the ear, for example when swimming
  • They have too much or too little earwax
  • A foreign object is inserted into the ear
  • The child has a skin condition such as eczema and it has spread inside the ear
  • The skin inside the ear has been broken by scratching or excessive cleaning
  • It is summer or you are travelling in a hot country


How can I tell it is swimmer’s ear?

It can be difficult to tell whether your baby has swimmer’s ear, earache or a middle ear infection as the symptom are all very similar.  Some of the signs that may indicate your baby has swimmer’s ear include:

  • Red ears
  • Your baby is pulling at and tugging at their ears
  • Reluctant to feed as swallowing and sucking can be painful
  • A discharge from the ear
  • A pimple just inside the ear
  • Swelling around the ear
  • Lymph nodes around the ear can become enlarged
  • Scaly skin just inside the ear
  • Difficulty hearing and not responding to sound
  • Your baby has been swimming
  • Your baby has had a foreign object in the ear


What should I do?

You should speak to your Health Visitor or Doctor if you think your baby is in pain or has swimmer’s ear.  Most cases of swimmer’s ear tend to be mild and get better without treatment.  You should try to keep your baby content and distracted.  You should keep the ear clean and dry and will need to avoid swimming for at least week.  You may want to warm the area by placing a warm flannel to the ear being extra careful not make it too hot.  If your baby is in a lot of discomfort and old enough (over 2 months) you can use measured infant paracetamol according to the instructions to help your baby’s pain.  Your health visitor or doctor will be able to offer more individual advice and guidance.

A fever is not usually associated with swimmer’s ear and you should should speak to your doctor if your baby has a high temperature.  You should also get your baby examined if they are under 2 months, cannot be soothed or distracted or if symptoms do not improve after 3-4 days.

If symptoms do not improve on their own, your baby may be prescribed antibiotics or ear drops to treat the infection.  Treatment for swimmer’s ear is available from a pharmacist but for babies and young children, it is recommended that you speak to your doctor before using anything.


Will it happen again?

Children who have swimmer’s ear once are more prone to getting it again.   After your baby has been swimming, you should gently dry the area around the ear and remove any access water as this can help to reduce the risk of getting swimmer’s ear.  Holding your baby on both of their sides after swimming can also help natural drainage of water from the ear.  You should ensure that you place a hat on baby’s head after swimming to keep baby’s temperature level.  It is also important that you never clean your baby’s ear with any kind of stick or cotton wool tip as this can cause damage to the ear and increase the chance of infection.


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