Skip to Content
July 18, 2019


ThedaCare Pediatrician Discusses Identifying, Treating and Preventing It

July 18, 2019


ThedaCare Pediatrician Discusses Identifying, Treating and Preventing It

DARBOY, Wis. – Summer is finally here and with it comes family vacations and days spent at the swimming pool, beach or waterpark.

Water activities can bring on the ailment commonly called “swimmer’s ear,” otitis externa, which is an infection of the exterior ear canal that runs into the eardrum.

“Many water sources harbor bacteria,” explained Dr. Abby Smolcich, MD, pediatrician at ThedaCare Physicians Pediatrics-Darboy. “Allowing water to remain in the ear canal provides an environment for that bacteria to grow and cause an infection, especially if the skin inside the ear is scratched or broken.” 

Dr. Smolcich said after time at the pool, beach or waterpark, every swimmer should dry their ears completely. Parents or caretakers should make sure their children’s ears are completely dry before resuming other activities.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that swimmer’s ear causes an estimated 2.4 million doctor visits each year. It lists the symptoms of swimmer’s ear as:

            • Itchiness inside the ear

            • Redness and swelling of the ear

            • Pain when the ear is tugged or when pressure is placed on the ear

            • Drainage from the infected ear

Dr. Smolcich advises seeing your local healthcare provider if you or someone in your care exhibits those symptoms.

“Swimmer’s ear isn’t contagious,” she said. “It can be quite uncomfortable for the patient if allowed to worsen. It’s not something to be ignored.”

If left unchecked, swimmer’s ear can cause more serious problems, including temporary hearing loss, cellulitis, bone and cartilage damage and more widespread infections. Antibiotic eardrops typically cure the problem relatively quickly.

To prevent swimmer’s ear, she recommends using a towel and tilting the head to each side to allow any accumulated water to drain out of the ears.

“Pulling the ear lobe in different directions while your head is tilted may help drain more water out,” she added.

The Mayo Clinic offers additional preventive techniques. It recommends:

• Swim wisely by avoiding beaches or lakes that have alerts for high bacteria counts.

          • Avoid putting foreign objects in your ear that may break the skin inside your ear.

          • Protect your ears from irritants such as hair spray and hair dyes.

Dr. Smolcich also noted that heavy perspiration, extended humid conditions and the use of headphones or hearing aids can increase the level of moisture in the ear. That can also result in bacteria growth and the development of swimmer’s ear.

“Water activities are a great way to cool down in the summertime,” she said. “It’s smart to be aware of concerns like swimmer’s ear. If you or a family member has discomfort in an ear after swimming, it’s always better to be safe than sorry and check in with your provider.”

About ThedaCare

For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to finding a better way to deliver serious and complex healthcare to patients throughout Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization serves a community of more than 600,000 residents and employs more than 6,700 healthcare professionals throughout the regions. ThedaCare has seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose as well as 31 clinics in nine counties. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving our specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a non-profit healthcare organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service.

For more information, visit or follow ThedaCare on Facebook and Twitter.

Media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public Relations Specialist at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.

Back to site