Ouch! Why does my child have ear pain?

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Is it Swimmer's Ear


When your child has a painful earache, you just want it fixed. You may be much less concerned about what actually caused it. However, learning the difference between a “typical” ear infection, acute otitis media, and swimmer’s ear, otitis extern or OE, can help your child heal faster and avoid a re-infection.

Usually, when we hear “ear infection”, it refers to a middle ear infection, caused by fluid such as pus or mucus, deeper within the ear. Middle ear infections are commonly caused by a cold or congestion and tend to occur more during the colder months of the year.

Swimmer’s ear, OE, which is much more common in the summer months, refers to an infection of the ear canal, just inside that opening in the ear itself. When your child spends a great deal of time in the water, the standing moisture can irritate the skin inside the ear canal. This allows bacteria or fungi to invade the canal. While extensive swimming can cause OE, any type of irritation in the ear canal can also allow bacteria to penetrate the skin.

What are the symptoms of OE?

• Ear pain, often proceeded by the ear canal itching

• Pain when chewing

• Feeling swelling or fullness in the ear

• Redness or swelling of the outer ear

• Discharge, clear, cloudy or yellow

I think my child does have OE. How is it treated?

If you suspect your child has OE, call Alzein Pediatrics at 708-424-7600 immediately, or click here and make a sick-child appointment. Your child will almost always need antibiotics to treat this bacterial infection. Depending upon the severity of the OE, medications may be administered as ear drops or an oral medication. We may carefully and gently clean the pus and infection with a swab or suction. We’ll also recommend a pain reliever to ease your child’s discomfort while healing.

When can we swim again?

Your child’s ears will need to be kept clean and dry throughout the entire course of treatment, usually 7-10 days. Don’t forget to take all doses and finish all medications completely, even though your child improves within days. At your initial appointment and depending upon treatment, we’ll give you guidelines as to when your child can resume water play.

How can we prevent OE?

• Don’t let your child scratch his ear canal, with fingers, cotton swabs, paper clips – anything!

  • Watch for dry skin in and around the ears
  • Protect ear canals with ear plugs during water play
  • If your child does not have ear tubes, consider an over-the-counter acetic acid solution to carefully drop into the ear canal after extended exposure to water

Questions about OE or ear infections in general? 

Call Alzein Pediatrics at 708-424-7600. We are always happy to address your concerns about your child’s health and well-being!

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