Are Your Kids Swimmers? Here's How to Treat 'Swimmer's Ear' and 'Swimmer's Itch'

By Dr. Kristin Seaborg

Are Your Kids Swimmers? Here's How to Treat 'Swimmer's Ear' and 'Swimmer's Itch'

August 14, 2013 Updated Aug 14, 2013 at 3:43 PM EDT

When the sun is high and hot overhead, there’s nothing like a refreshing swim. But has your child ever complained of a painful ear after a day in the pool or an itchy rash after a dip in a lake? 

Cooling off can occasionally come with complications.  Fortunately, these can be easy to recognize when you know what to look for.  

“Swimmer’s ear” refers to the painful swelling of the outer ear canal caused by a bacterial infection that can occur when the protective layer of normal ear wax is washed away.  Children are at increased risk of contracting swimmer’s ear if they swim for prolonged periods of time in poorly chlorinated pools, lakes, ponds, or rivers. 

There are a variety of over-the-counter alcohol-based ear drops that can be applied to your child’s ear after swimming to remove the excess moisture and decrease the chance that they will get swimmer’s ear. Children with ear tubes or any potential tear in their ear drum should not receive over the counter ear drops so it is best to discuss this with your doctor.  Avoid trauma to the outer ear canal by restricting use of cotton-tipped applicators or inserting any foreign objects in the ear.  Q-tips are good for cleaning small spaces in your house but should not be used on your body!

Another common swimming malady that can cause some distress after swimming in local lakes is Swimmer’s Itch, or cercarial dermatitis.  The rash associated with swimmer’s itch can appear minutes to hours after a child swims in water contaminated by small parasites that burrow into their skin and cause an allergic reaction and rash.   Children with swimmer’s itch first will complain of burning, tingling skin and then may exhibit small red pimples on the exposed portions of their skin.  Calamine lotion or cool compresses may be helpful to quell some of the irritation associated with swimmer’s itch.  Oatmeal baths or Epson salts also are useful ways to treat the symptoms while the itching resolves. 

Finally, no column on swimming written by a pediatrician would be complete without a plug to swim safely, make smart choices, and supervise your children while in the water at all times.  And please be sure to remember your children’s dripping wet smiles as the days “float” by for the rest of the summer!

Kristin Seaborg is a Wisconsin pediatrician who writes about her experiences and perspective as a pediatrician and a parent of three children on her  blog, Common Sense Motherhood.  To find out more about Dr. Seaborg, you can visit her at her website, www.kristinseaborg.com.

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