“Mommy, my ear hurts!” That dreaded phrase strikes fear into the heart of parents everywhere, especially in the middle of a summer vacation when you’re not close to your usual medical support system. What should you do when your kid’s ear hurts?
This time of year, however, the (kind of) good news is that there’s a chance that your kiddo’s earache is swimmer’s ear (a.k.a. otitis externa) and that’s a whole other ball of wax (if you’ll pardon the pun). It’s an infection of the lining of the ear canal that is common in children whose ears have been exposed to a lot of water. Water weakens this lining and changes the acidic balance, allowing bacteria to penetrate it, causing inflammation, infection, and pain.
What to Know if Your Kid’s Ear Hurts:
Children are more prone to get swimmer’s ear from swimming in lake water than in swimming pools or the ocean. During the hottest weeks of the summer, some lakes have higher than usual levels of bacteria, further increasing their propensity to cause swimmer’s ear. (Yuk.)
If your child also has a fever or the area around their sore ear is swollen, seek medical attention immediately.
Even if the reason your kid’s ear hurts is swimmer’s ear and not a middle ear infection, you’ll still likely need a trip to the doctor, although it’s likely more uncomfortable than serious. Just like any other ear infection, swimmer’s ear is usually treated with antibiotics, either in the form of pills or ear drops. A homemade potion can be created using half rubbing alcohol and half vinegar, but a visit to a medical professional has to be added to your already-full summer calendar. Sorry.
Your child should not swim or put their head under water until the infection is gone. During showers, avoid allowing the water to stream over their head directly.
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