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07:31 PM

Can My Child Swim with an Ear Infection?

ENT doctor looks at ear aches, swimmer’s ear and swimming with tubes

An ear infection isn’t likely to stop your child from wanting to get in the pool and swim. But as the parent you may be wondering, “Can my child go swimming with an ear infection?”

That’s a question we hear quite a bit, so we thought we check with one of our experts.

In general, swimming with a middle ear infection (while under treatment) is not a problem, according to Natalie Roberge, M.D., an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist at Cook Children’s.

However, a child should stay out of the water for some time while experiencing otitis externa, better known as swimmer’s ear.

Unlike the common ear infection of the middle ear (Otitis Media), swimmer’s ear (Otitis Externa) is inflammation and/or infection of the ear canal.

The symptoms of swimmer’s ear usually start as itching of the ear, and quickly progresses to ear pain (especially if you pull on the earlobe). You may even notice a discharge or foul smelling odor from the ear. Swimmer’s ear is predominately seen in the summer months, mostly in children greater than 2 years old and often only affects just one ear.

“Swimming with an otitis externa is discouraged until three days after the pain and drainage have stopped,” Dr. Roberge said.

There was a reason why your mother used to make you dry your ears when you got out of the pool or shower. Water sitting in your ears is the perfect environment to allow bacteria and fungus to grow. Wax prevents water from pooling in our ears and changes the acidity of our ear canals to stop microbial growth. Therefore children with little to no ear wax are at risk of developing swimmer’s ear. Conditions that trap water in the ear, such as excessive amounts of ear wax or foreign objects in the ear, may cause troubles. Swimmer’s ear also is seen in children with diabetes, chronic immunodeficiencies, or certain skin conditions (such as severe eczema, or psoriasis).

As with many diseases an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Drying your child’s ears thoroughly by tilting the head and place a towel in the ear can significantly decrease the chance of infection. If your child is prone to swimmer’s ears the use of waterproof earplugs or a few drops of over-the-counter swimmers ears drops can help prevent. You can make your own swimmer’s ear prevention drops with equal parts of rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) and white vinegar (5 percent acetic acid). At the end of swimming dry your ears and place a few drops in both ears.

What about swimming with tubes?

This is the question we receive a lot.

In general, kids with tubes do not need ear plugs while swimming, unless it seems to bother the child or with lake swimming or deep diving. The exception to this: Swimming with draining ears in children with tubes should be discouraged until the drainage has stopped.

Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery Foundation published the following:

“Routine, prophylactic water precautions SHOULD NOT be encouraged for children with tympanostomy tubes. Evidence from clinical trials shows no benefit or trivial clinical benefit from routine water precautions. Some children with tubes may benefit from water precautions in specific situations (lake swimming, deep diving, history of recurrent otorrhea, head dunking during bathing, or otalgia with water entry into the ear canal).”

We hope this answers a few of your questions and you have a safe and happy swimming season. #Lifeguardyourchild

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Get to know Natalie Roberge, M.D.

Dr. Roberge, M.D., is an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist at Cook Children's. At Cook Children's, our expert pediatric specialists diagnose and treat many ear, nose and throat conditions. The Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) staff also collaborates with other specialties within Cook Children's system to treat and rehabilitate children with speech and hearing disorders.

Dr. Roberge said, "My passion is to work with kids and watch them grow healthier. Children make me laugh. I love to hear how they explain the world. I've been married for over 25 years. We have 3 children who keep us busy with their activities and travel."

Comments 1 - 2 (2)
Thank you for your message. It will be posted after approval.
Dan Creber
What about swimming with a (suspected) middle ear infection that isn't under treatment? Would this change anything?
Natalie Roberge, M.D.
Thank you Dan for your question. Nothing bad will happen with swimming with a MIDDLE ear infection. It would be a problem to swim with an EXTERNAL ear infection. Typically though, if you have an ear infection, you won’t feel like swimming.


Natalie A Roberge MD