The child’s doctor will probably prescribe ear drops containing antibiotics and/or corticosteroids to help fight the infection and reduce the swelling in the ear canal. The drops are usually given several times a day for up to 10 days. Over-the-counter pain relievers also may help until the antibiotics begin to work.
If the ear swelling is severe, the doctor may place a cotton wick into the ear canal to help the medication get carried into the ear. For even more severe infections, oral antibiotics may be prescribed, and a sample of ear discharge may be sent to a laboratory to determine exactly which germ is causing the infection.
In addition to the medication, the child must not go swimming, take showers, or shampoo the hair until the infection clears (generally 10 to 14 days).
Swimmer’s ear can be prevented. Acid alcohol drops (available over-the-counter) are an effective way to prevent the problem. After swimming, three or four drops should be put into the ear canal while the child is lying down on her side. The area in front of the ear canal should be gently massaged to allow the drops to penetrate the ear. The child should remain in that position for a full minute before having drops in the other ear.
For a child with normal ears, earplugs are not as effective as drops in preventing swimmer’s ear. For a child with a hole in the eardrum or ear tubes, however, earplugs are useful. Earplugs work best for surface swimming only; the effectiveness of an earplug cannot be guaranteed underwater.