Pools, Planes and More: Here's How to Protect Your Little Ones Ear's This Summer
By Regina E. Zappi, AuD, CCC-A
Summer (hopefully!) brings lots of fun: traveling, playing in water, or going to events like concerts. It also can bring along ear problems for kids. Here are some tips for keeping them at bay while still enjoying your summer activities.
At the pool, waterpark or beach this summer? Watch your little one for signs of swimmer’s ear.
Swimmer’s ear (otitis externa) is an infection of the outer ear canal. It’s different from most ear infections (otitis media), which usually infect the middle ear—located behind the eardrum. Swimmer’s ear can be caused by moisture trapped in the ear canal or an injury to the ear canal. It’s most common in children, though anyone can experience swimmer’s ear. Children who wear hearing aids or wear headphones frequently may be at greater risk for infection.
Signs of swimmer’s ear include:
- Itching or pain in the ear (young children may pull at their ear)
- Drainage from the ear
- Redness or swelling of the outer ear
- Changes in hearing
Swimmer’s ear can usually be treated with ear drops from your child’s healthcare provider. Their doctor also may prescribe pain medication, and/or refer you to an ear, nose and throat doctor if it has progressed significantly. If your child is experiencing changes in hearing, you may be referred to an audiologist to monitor their hearing levels.
To prevent swimmer’s ear, keep your child’s ear canal dry. DO the following:
- Dry your child’s ears well with a towel after swimming or bathing.
- Tilt their head to drain water from their ears. Pull on their earlobe to straighten out the ear canal and let the water out.
- Have them wear swimmer’s earplugs if they swim a lot and/or are prone to ear problems. An audiologist can make custom molds for children (and adults).
- Put anything in your child’s ears! Cotton swabs and other objects can scratch their ear canal, making it easier to get an infection.
- Wait it out if your child is experiencing symptoms. Contact your child’s doctor even if you are unsure of the severity of the infection.
Timely treatment is important because a child may have difficulty hearing while they have an infection. This can affect their speech and language development and social interactions if it goes on for too long.
If your child is having difficulty hearing after treatment, visit a certified audiologist for a full evaluation. Your doctor can give you the name of a local audiologist, or you can use a searchable national database here.
Other Summer Ear Hazards
Ear infections aren’t the only summer-related ear problems that can disrupt summer fun. Learn how you can help your child avoid:
Airplane ear. Airplane ear (which isn’t limited to airplanes) occurs when dramatic changes in pressure cause an imbalance in the pressure in the inner ear and outside environment. There’s not much that can be done to prevent changes in pressure on an airplane, but you can help lessen the symptoms and discomfort. Try these tips to make for more pleasurable travel:
For Younger Children:
- Encourage them to swallow—provide a drink for them to sip on
- Have them suck on a pacifier
- Keep them awake during takeoff and descent, so they can take prevention measures
For Older Children:
- Chew gum
- Yawn and swallow
- Use earplugs
- Stay awake during takeoff and descent
Noise-induced hearing loss. This type of hearing loss occurs when children are exposed to excessively loud noise. It can occur over time (such as repeatedly listening to headphones at high volume), or after one extremely loud event (such as standing next to a fireworks launch site). This type of hearing loss is preventable, but once it occurs, it’s irreversible.
Summer brings many loud activities, including sporting events, concerts, parades, and more. Protect your child’s hearing by:
- Bringing ear protection to loud events. Younger children should use well-fitting earmuffs, while older children can use earplugs. These can be picked up at most drugstores or purchased online.
- Using a sound level meter app on your phone to monitor the volume. 85 decibels is considered safe for (a maximum of) 8 hours. Keep in mind that many sporting and music events, and even everday places, can be louder than 85 decibels. The louder the noise level, the less time you should be spending in that location.
- Keeping your distance from noise sources such as a speaker or stage. Stay at least 500 feet away.
- Leaving if it gets too loud, or anyone is feeling pain or hearing ringing in their ears. If pain or other symptoms continue, visit an audiologist for an evaluation.
Have a healthy, safe and fun-filled summer!
Regina Zappi, AuD, CCC-A, is Associate Director of Audiology Practices at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).
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