How to keep ’swimmer’s ear’ from ruining your summer holidays

Next to the common cold, ear infections are the most common illness in children. The painful condition, known medically as ‘otitis media’, strikes virtually all kids at some point in their childhood.

But it is especially common in babies and toddlers, particularly those attending childcare. Ear aches are also common in the summer months and that’s why the infection is sometimes referred to as ‘swimmer’s ear’.

For a quick explanation, ear infections occur when fluid gets trapped in the middle ear and becomes infected by bacteria or a virus. It’s more common in kids, as their Eustachian tubes are shorter and narrower, which makes them more prone to blockages.

The signs and symptoms of otitis media can range from very mild to severe:

  • The fluid in the middle ear may push on the eardrum, causing ear pain. An older child may complain of an earache, but a younger child may tug at the ear or simply act irritably and cry more than usual.

  • Lying down, chewing, and sucking can also cause painful pressure changes in the middle ear, so a child may eat less than normal or have trouble sleeping.

  • If the pressure from the fluid build-up is high enough, it can cause the eardrum to rupture, resulting in drainage of fluid from the ear. This releases the pressure behind the eardrum, usually bringing relief from the pain.

A child who might have an ear infection should visit a doctor. In deciding how to manage your child’s ear infection, a doctor will consider many factors including:

  • Painkillers: such as ibuprofen and paracetamol to help relieve pain and reduce fever.

  • Antibiotics: are sometimes prescribed if the child is under the age of two, the infection is severe and has not cleared within a few days or if complications develop.

  • Professional cleaning of the ear canal.

  • Antifungal preparations for fungal infections.

  • Surgery: if an infection remains, surgery may be required. A tiny tube is inserted into the eardrum to allow a small hole to remain open so fluids can drain more easily.

If you think your child may be suffering from an ear infection and you are concerned, you should visit your GP. If it is at night or over the weekend, and your GP is closed, you can call 13SICK (that’s 13 7425) or use the 13SICK app to arrange a bulk billed*, afterhours doctor home visit.
* if eligible for Medicare rebates

Other useful links: Swimmer’s ear (otitis externa)