Kid’s Ear Canal Infections

Unlike the ear infection that is caused by a cold or flu, the summer ear infection from swimming and things found in kid’s ears are quite different and require different care.  With a little awareness of the potential problems, parents can stay in front of the crisis and reduce their child’s discomfort, while keeping summer going at full speed ahead.

Frequent Causes of Infection

The primary cause of ear canal infections in children during summer is water and wax in the ear canal that is trapped, stays wet, and invites bacteria or fungal growth.  There are a number of factors that increase the risk of infection.  The first is the fact that children have small ear canals and for some, wax will not come out naturally.  In the normal situation, skin from the center of the eardrum grows outward to push all the debris out of the ear and in a month the skin that started at the eardrum is at the opening of the ear canal.  We call this migration.  In some cases, the ear canal twists sharply, is small, or has a small bottleneck in the middle that prevents this from happening.  If your child had the pediatrician or ENT physician pull wax out of the ear in the past for a clog, maybe a trip to the pediatrician at the beginning of summer, before the activities start, is a good idea as wax problems just do not go away, causes hearing loss, and reoccur.

The second is the unsuspecting infection that occurs because of exposure to bacteria or fungus. especially from fresh water rivers or lakes.  The infection starts and gets into the skin of the ear canal, sometimes by a scratch from a fingernail or other object that breaks the skin.  The third type occurs when a child puts a bead, corneal of corn, a cotton ball, a dry bean, or small toy part in their ear while playing and it gets stuck.  I have even seen dead water bugs in the canal.

How to Identify the Problem?

While the infection is festering, the child is unaware of the impeding pain and it could be days to a week or so before the problem crops up.  In all of these cases, children tug at their ears, complain of itching and a plugged ear, may have hearing loss (not a “listening” problem), and universally, tugging the ear up and down cause discomfort or clogs the ears even more.  In the more advanced cases, the child will have a temperature and severe pain.

What to Do

In children that have tubes in the eardrums from prior infection, known as Otitis Media (middle ear infection) swimming, but not diving more than two feet is okay according to leading ENT specialists.  Research has shown that infection will happen with or without swim molds or ear drops.  Keeping soapy water out of the ear is also an important precaution.  In children with sensitivity in the canal, custom made swim molds, obtained from any Audiologist, can reduce the discomfort for most child.  They float, come with a string between them, and are made in bright colors.  The solution once the problem has occurred is an expeditious trip to the pediatrician or ENT physician.  The typical treatment will be to remove any clogging and provide ear drops for a week or so.  But no swimming for at least a week or until the physician clears the condition.  Once the problem is resolved, game on.