Swimmer's ear, allergy-related ear pain and other common summertime ear, nose and throat (ENT) issues

Swimmer's ear, allergy-related ear pain and other common summertime ear, nose and throat (ENT) issues

For many across the country, summertime means summer fun. Kids are free to get together with their friends for bike rides or go to the beach. Unfortunately, there are a number of ear, nose, and throat (ENT) issues that may arise during the summer season.

Dr. Anthony Sheyn, Division Chief of ENT at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, shares important information for parents to consider.

To listen to a podcast on this topic, follow this link: https://www.lebonheur.org/podcast?segitem=47514

Swimmer’s Ear

More than any other season, kids are spending time in the water—whether pool, lake, ocean, or river. This may lead to “swimmer’s ear,” which is one type of ear infection and can be very painful. It’s also a condition that cannot be treated with oral antibiotics. Rather, treatment requires powerful ear drops that get right to the infection’s location.

Dr. Sheyn offers some tips to avoid swimmer’s ear, including:

  • Clean out the ears after swimming in “dirty” water (pools, lakes, ocean).
  • After baths, use a hair dryer on a low setting and a distance away to dry out the ears.
  • Use ear plugs to prevent water entering the ear.
  • Stop using Q-tips to clean out ears. This takes away protective ear wax.

That last one is very important. “The ear is actually a self-cleaning organ. If you look at the Q-tip box, it actually says, ‘do not use inside the ear.’ Q-tips are great for cleaning the outside of your ear, but they are not great for cleaning the inside of your ear. No matter how good it feels,” states Dr. Sheyn.

Allergy-Related Ear Pain

Another spring and summer related ear issue arises from allergies. If kids are very congested and sniffling a lot, a condition may develop called eustachian tube dysfunction—also very painful at times. Unfortunately, this condition is not related to ear infection and does not respond to antibiotics.

While parents might turn to a product like Afrin to provide relief, Dr. Sheyn advises against it as a therapy because it poses the risk of dependency. “If you use it for three to five days, you put yourself at risk for having a condition called rhinitis medicamentosa, which is a fancy way of saying that unless you use Afrin, you're going to be congested. And that's a very, very hard thing to treat in children or in adults.”

Instead, he suggests using an over-the-counter antihistamine such as Zyrtec and possibly a topical nasal steroid. Of course, if none of these remedies work, it’s likely time to seek out the help of an ENT specialist.

Injuries of the Nose, Jaw, and Eye

Ears aren’t the only affected organ. Dr. Sheyn sees a lot of nasal fractures during the summer months as well.

“I cannot stress how important it is to wear a helmet whenever you're doing any kind of activity, either rollerblading, roller-skating, being on a bicycle, using a four wheeler, or any kind of motorized activity. It can save your life, no matter the injury.”

The good news is that if a child does suffer a nasal fracture, it is the type of injury that heals fairly well on its own with minimal intervention. Once the swelling goes down, ENT doctors can assess if further action needs to be taken.

That’s not so much the case with fractures of the jaw. The younger the child is, the less likely they will require surgery. But, in some cases, fixing the jaw involves inserting a metal plate and wiring the jaw shut. “While those are mostly well tolerated, it's a pretty bad way to spend your summer,” notes Dr. Sheyn.

Finally, ENT doctors work on mandible fractures, which involve injuries around the socket of the eye. These can be more traumatic because of potential injuries to the eye itself and in the worst cases vision loss. “Fortunately, the repair is easy, relatively speaking. But if you wear a helmet, a lot of this can be prevented,” he adds.

Ensuring a Safe, Healthy Summer (and All Year Round)

It’s impossible to put a protective bubble around your children at all times, but these simple steps help you ensure they enjoy a happy, healthy, injury-free summer. For any questions about persistent allergies, which are largely nonpreventable, visit with your pediatrician who can then advise next steps.

Subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss a post.