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CLEVELAND – On a hot day, a dip in the water can be very inviting. It might also be inviting some excruciating pain in the ear. That is what 10-year-old Kyle Smithburger found out when he got swimmer’s ear. “It felt really painful. It felt almost like something was in there with like a torch. Because it feels like it’s burning and stinging,” Kyle said.

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Dr. Jay Shah, a Pediatric Otolaryngologist with Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital said it starts with water trapped in the ear canal. “Swimmer’s Ear is also known as otitis externa, which means a swelling or inflammation of the ear canal – mainly the skin of the ear canal” Dr. Shah added.

A child is more likely to get swimmer’s ear from swimming in something other than a pool, because of what might be in the water. The concern is if there are bacteria or fungus in the water. “I went swimming in a pond and it only takes going under for a split second and that’s what I did,” Kyle said.

Dr. Shah said instead of oral antibiotics, anyone with swimmer’s ear needs to be treated with antibiotic ear drops. “The antibiotic ear drops are very concentrated and they attack the source, the bacteria source, right away,” Dr. Shah added.

Often times, a child with swimmer’s ear will need to have the ear suctioned to remove any excess water or discharge. “The next step is putting what we call an ear wick which is a special sponge that we put in the ear helps soak up the ear drops and keeps the ear canal open while we’re treating it,” Dr. Shah explained.

One can also get swimmer’s ear if water pools in the ear after bathing, if sweat gets in the ear from a heavy workout or if the ear canal is irritated or scratched from cleaning the ear. When swimming, wearing ear plugs may be the best way to prevent swimmer’s ear. Dr. Shah said it is a good idea to use a towel or even a hair dryer on a low setting to dry the ears of any excess water.

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