Swimmer's ear is an infection of the outer part of the ear canal (also known as otitis externa) that can be caused by exposure to bacteria from swimming in polluted water, or by water becoming trapped in the ear, which causes the germs normally found there to multiply. Kids who swim in pools (rather than lakes or oceans) tend to get swimmer's ear more often, since the chlorinated water can kill off a lot of the protective bacteria in the ear, allowing the infectious bacteria to grow. Symptoms usually include:
• Pain or discomfort in or around the ear (usually only one ear is affected)
• Itching near the outer ear
• Red, scaly skin around the outer ear
• Swelling in the ear
• Decreased or muffled hearing
It's tough to completely prevent swimmer's ear (unless you're going to keep your kids on dry land), but it's not serious and easily treated with antibiotic eardrops. Although earplugs seem like a natural choice for prevention, many doctors don't like them because they can trap bacteria in the ear canal and actually have the opposite affect. Instead, encourage your child to shake the water from his ears after swimming by tilting his head to one side and gently tugging his earlobes to help the water drip out. It's also not a good idea to clean your child's ears too often, since a small buildup of earwax can keep bad bacteria out of the ear canal. If your child is especially prone to swimmer's ear, try a bottle of ear-drying drops that contain rubbing alcohol (like Swim-Ear) to use after he's done swimming (you can also mix your own with equal parts rubbing alcohol and white vinegar).