Most parents would agree that dealing with illnesses in children is one of the most stressful parts of being a mom or dad. If it’s not the common cold or a scraped knee from falling down, it seems like it’s a bellyache or a painful hangnail. And while every injury or illness that our little ones face is hard for us to see, ear pain seems to be one of the most acute types of pain that can really wreak havoc on children. There’s also a lot of confusion about ear infections and the question of whether or not swimming (or exposing a child’s ears to water period) might be responsible for ear infections. Given how common they are in infants and toddlers, we’re here to help you sort out the truths and the myths about this common childhood infection.
A Look at Inner Ear Infections
First, it’s important to note that not all ear infections are created equal. In fact, the most common type experienced is one that affects the middle (or inner) ear. When this occurs, a bacteria or a virus has entered into the space behind the eardrum and causes inflammation. An inner ear infection like this will often clear up without any treatment, but antibiotics are often prescribed if the pain and inflammation does not go away on its own.
Second, an inner ear infection is often caused by another illness like a cold, flu or even allergies. Certain illnesses like these can block the tubes where fluids generally drain, leaving fluids to build up in volume and pressure. Your best bet is to quickly and adequately treat your child’s initial illnesses, in the hopes that you can reduce the likelihood of fluid build-up and ear infections. There have also been some reports that feeding babies from a bottle while lying down can also contribute to the accumulation of fluid in the ear (and ultimately an inner ear infection), so experts recommend breastfeeding when possible or holding your baby in an upright position when feeding by bottle.
“Swimmer’s Ear” Explained
The other variety of ear infection that you may have heard of is called “swimmer’s ear.” This is an infection of the outer ear canal, and can occur if a child has excess moisture in their ear after swimming or bathing. Kids can also experience this outer ear infection if they put foreign objects (like a cotton swab or even a finger) too far in their ears and damage the lining.
Swimmer’s ear can usually be cleared up with the use of some eardrops. But in order to prevent the condition from happening in the first place, be sure to keep your little one’s ears dry whenever they’re done swimming or bathing. Try tipping their head slowly to one side to let the water drain out of the outer ear canal, and then repeat on the other side. Also, teach your kids to avoid putting anything in their ears that shouldn’t be there. These couple of preventive steps can go a long way in keeping this type of ear infection from happening to your child.
When all's said and done, it’s perfectly safe to submerge babies’ and young kids’ ears underwater when swimming in clean water or in the bathtub at home. Just be sure to properly dry their ears afterward, and practice healthy habits around their ears in general. And contact us if you have any questions about the causes of ear infections or about our swim lessons!