There can only be a few things more frustrating for a child than to be on holiday watching their friends having fun in the pool and not to be able to join them because of an ear infection.
How can you avoid ear infections ruining your child’s holiday? We ask Mr David Albert, Consultant Paediatric ENT surgeon at The Portland Hospital, to explain the different types of ear infections that your child might be exposed to and how you can spot and manage their symptoms.
What is the most common cause of holiday earache?
Swimmer’s ear is the most common type of holiday ear infection and it affects adults and children. The ear canal is lined with delicate skin and once this is infected there is a vicious cycle of pain and swelling that can block the canal and stop it from resolving. Some children are more susceptible if they have eczema. Also any kind of damage such as using cotton buds or the end of a towel to dry the ear can start the infection. It is common in villa pools where there is often a film of old suntan oil and it is difficult to keep chlorine levels high because of the temperature. The key signs of infection are categorized as mild, moderate and advanced, and can start with a simple itch and progress to severe pain.
Can a child still go swimming if they have perforated ears or grommets?
In children with existing perforated ears or grommets you need to take the advice of your surgeon as to how to deal with swimming. Grommet infections can usually be treated promptly with Ciloxan® drops, so I usually allow my patients to swim without protection. Larger perforations may benefit from custom made earplugs.
How can I prevent holiday earache?
To help prevent earache anyone can use alcohol drops after swimming to dry and sterilise the canal. These are popular with swimmers and surfers, and are available as SwimEar® drops over-the-counter, but they should not be used if there is a perforation or grommets (tubes) are in use.
If eczema is a problem, steroid and antibiotic drops can also help. Earplugs are a mixed blessing as they rarely exclude water effectively and often traumatise the delicate canal skin.
How can I tell if my child has an ear infection?
Middle ear infections that occur in the space behind an intact eardrum are not related to swimming. If your child is susceptible to these it can be difficult on holiday to tell which kind of infection they have. A high temperature may suggest a middle ear infection but it may be difficult for the holiday doctor to see what is going on so they may prescribe oral and topical antibiotics.
Diving and flying with a “cold” can leave the space behind the ear blocked with fluid which can cause deafness and sometimes pain. This may take up to 6 weeks to resolve.
If your child has a history of repeated infections you will need to talk to your ENT surgeon about the best way to avoid this.
How can I treat an ear infection?
The initial treatment for an established external infection is a course of antibiotic ear drops that are well massaged into the canal as well as pain relief. As the canal becomes swollen the ear can be exquisitely painful so that it is difficult to get antibiotic ear drops into the canal. An ENT surgeon can gently insert an expanding antibiotic wick and may suggest antibiotics orally. If treatment is prolonged the antibiotic drop can kill bacteria and allow fungi and yeasts to grow.
To book an appointment with Mr David Albert at The Portland Hospital please call 020 7390 8300 or email firstname.lastname@example.org