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Swimmer's ear - an infection in your ear canal

ear; problems; infection; eardrops; protecting ears; earwax; bacteria; germs; earache; swimmer; swim; wax;


Look at an ear.

swimmers earYou can see that the outside of the ear sort of swirls around to catch the soundwaves and send them into the middle of your ear through an opening called the ear canal. At the end of the ear canal is the eardrum - look up our topic Ears - how your ears work if you want to find out more.

The skin lining the ear canal has a thin coat of wax. Guess what it's called? Yes, earwax! This is to protect the very thin sensitive skin from stuff that can get into the ear canal, especially water.

How you get swimmer's ear

swimmers ear If a person is in the water a lot, sometimes water collects in the ear canal and washes away the ear wax, making the skin soggy.

Sometimes the chemicals used to make pool water safe to swim in can irritate ears. Some bacteria which really like warm wet places may move into the ear and start to grow and cause an infection.

Sometimes people, especially kids, shove things down the ear canal that shouldn't be there, and scratch the skin in the ear canal. swimmers earYou know the sort of thing I mean - seeds, beads, cotton buds, crayons, pencils, paper clips, sausages… Well maybe not sausages, but kids sure can be inventive in what they think will fit into ears!

Bacteria can get into the scratched area and cause an infection too.

Doctors call this infection otitis externa (say o-ty-tis ex-ter-na) which means infection of the outer ear.

Kids who have skin problems such as eczema or dermatitis may get 'swimmer's ear' more often.

What it feels like

The ear will feel really itchy inside.

  • You could have an earache.
  • It hurts even more if you pull gently on your ear lobe (like mum does when putting earrings in or taking them out.)
  • There may be some yucky stuff coming out of the ear.
  • You could feel sick and have a temperature.
  • You could feel pain in your face and neck.
    swimmers ear

What you can do

  • swimmers earAsk mum, dad or whoever looks after you to take you to see your doctor.
  • You may be given some eardrops to put in your ear, which have an antibiotic (anti-bi-ot-ick) in them to kill the germs which are making you sick.
  • You may have to take some medicine to help get rid of the infection.
  • Stay away from water until the infection has gone. You still have to keep clean though, so you can wear a shower cap or ear plugs to stop water getting into your ears in the shower or bath.
  • Do not put anything down your ear, even if it feels really itchy and you're sure it will feel better if you could only just reach…
  • Rest. Let your body have some time to get better.
  • A warm (not hot) heat pack, or hot water bottle covered by a towel, can feel good if you lie with your sore ear against it.

Stay away from swimmer's ear

If you're a keen swimmer or like to play in the pool a lot, then there are some things you can do to protect yourself from swimmer's ear.

  • Wear a swimming cap.
  • swimmers earWear earplugs to keep water out of your ear canal.
  • Shower after swimming in a pool.
  • Use special eardrops that help dry out your ear canal after swimming. You can get them at the chemist shop.
  • Tilt your head on one side, then the other, when you have been in water or in the shower. This will help water drain out of your ear.
  • Don't poke things down your ear especially anything metal (like a hair grip).
  • Remember that earwax is there to protect your ears, so don't try to wash it or clean it all out.

Dr Kim says:

Dr KimEven kids who don't swim much can get otitis externa. Remember the old saying - the only thing you should ever stick in your ear is your elbow!

What's that? Your elbow won't fit in your ear? Well, then, what should you put in your ear?

That's right. Nothing!

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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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