For many families, splashing in the backyard or community pool or heading to the nearest beach to cool off in the water is a major part of summer fun. Before you get your pool passes for the season, find out about how to protect your children’s ears when they start enjoying time in the water. Swim ear plugs are often the best solution, but how do you know if your child needs them and what types are the best?
The case for swim ear plugs
For children with recurrent ear infections such as swimmer’s ear (otitis externa), infections of the middle ear (otitis media) or ear tubes, the best bet is often swim ear plugs. These custom plugs keep ears dry preventing water containing harmful bacteria to get trapped inside the ear.
Many doctors recommend swim ear plugs for children that have ear tubes. Ear tubes are small cylinders that have been placed through the eardrum in the case of recurring middle ear infections in order to allow fluid to drain. Other doctors recommend regular use of swim ear plugs only when diving or swimming in untreated water, such as lakes, rivers and oceans.
The argument for limited use of plugs for children with ear tubes is predicated on the fact that surface tension of the water will prevent any water from entering the ear tubes, so unless a child is swimming 3 feet or more under water, they should be safe. To that end, children with ear tubes also should wear swim ear plugs whenever ears are submerged in soapy water in the bathtub. Soap acts as a surfactant, or lubricant, to reduce the surface tension and will allow the water to enter the tubes.
Even without ear tubes, swimming can pose risks for children with current ear infections or previous surgery. Although swimming doesn’t cause middle ear infections, swim ear plugs should be worn so any water pollutants don’t make an existing infection worse. Keep in mind also that underwater swimming can cause painful pressure changes for children with ear infections. And in the case of a ruptured acute otitis media, also known as an ear infection with a ruptured eardrum, swimming should be avoided completely until the infection has cleared up.
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