Beaches, lakes, public pools, and wading pools offer aquatic fun for kids. For parents, these places often rhyme with earache, ear drops, ear plugs, and doctor visits.

This is not a surprise for anyone: these public places where water activities are enjoyed are collection areas for bacteria, germs, fungus and several other organisms. Both adults and children are exposed to getting infections that affect the skin, the eyes, and the ears. The transmission of viruses is also a concern. Doctors recommend trying not to open the mouth and eyes in the water, to rinse with clean water after swimming, and drying thoroughly the inside of the ears. Even with these precautions, it is common for small ones to complain about painful ears a few hours or the night after their swim.

Over 75% of little ones will suffer from otitis at least once before the age of three. The phenomenon is a combination of swimmer’s ear and otitis media cases. Swimmer’s ear (external otitis) is very common, and occurs when infection develops in the ear canal from bacteria in the water. Heat, humidity and ideal Ph make the ear a great nesting ground for bacteria. Since it is difficult to dry the ear canal thoroughly after swimming, external otitis is very common. The infection occurs in the ear canal, somewhere between the ear opening and the eardrum.

Otitis media is different and affects a different par of the ear, the middle ear. It usually develops after a cold or allergy. The eustachian tubes are little canals that link the middle ear (the part of the ear behind the eardrum) and throat. Their purpose is to evacuate any liquid that could accumulate in the ears, as well as to equalize the air pressure on both sides of the eardrum. Kids are particularly sensitive because their eustachian tubes are much narrower and lay much more horizontally than those of adults. This makes it more difficult for liquid to be evacuated. The liquid that accumulates behind the eardrum can easily get infected and cause otitis. If the problem persists or repeats itself often, the doctor might suggest inserting a tube through the eardrum to facilitate liquid evacuation.

When a tube is inserted, pool water, contaminated with bacteria, might access the middle ear through the tube opening. The eardrum can no longer block water from entering directly the middle ear. The risk of infection is significantly increased. To decrease and deal with that risk, as well as to prevent swimmer’s ear, doctors often recommend wearing ear plugs to keep water from entering the ear canal. You can get them custom made by an audioprosthetist for optimal comfort and waterproofing.

In both otitis types, the little one will complain about pain and/or blocked ear. Irritability and fever often come along. At home, refrain from using cotton swabs that make the ear more prone to infections. Heat applied on the ear might help soothe the pain temporarily, but it is very important to go see a doctor as soon as possible. He will indicate what the best treatment is for your child. Happy swimming!