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Protect Your Kids' Ears: A Case for Swim Ear Plugs

Protect Your Kids' Ears: A Case for Swim Ear Plugs

Protect Your Kids' Ears: A Case for Swim Ear Plugs

Summer wouldn’t be the same without the opportunity to spend some refreshing time in the water, whether it be at a community pool or a local beach. But for children with ear problems such as recurrent ear infections, swimming can sometimes make things worse. Swim ear plugs can provide an easy solution and ensure that everyone gets a chance to have fun in the water. Read on to find out if your child might benefit from swim ear plugs, and what types are available.


What do swim ear plugs do?

Swim ear plugs are special ear plugs that prevent water from entering sensitive children's ears. Doctors often recommend these ear plugs for children with conditions such as swimmer’s ear (otitis externa) or middle ear infections (otitis media), or for kids who wear ear tubes. Not only do these ear plugs keep the ears dry, they also block potentially harmful bacteria from entering and becoming trapped in the ears.

Swimmer’s ear and ear plugs

Swimmer's ear is an infection in the outer ear canal, which runs from your eardrum to the outside of your head. This condition, which can be extremely painful for children, is often caused by water that remains in the ear after swimming. This trapped water creates a moist environment that aids bacterial growth. With this in mind, if you have children who are prone to ear infections and don’t want to risk them developing swimmer’s ear, ear plugs are definitely worth considering.

Do kids who wear ear tubes need swim ear plugs?

Although there is some disagreement among doctors and experts on the subject, many doctors recommend swim ear plugs for children that have ear tubes.

Ear tubes are cylinders which are placed through the eardrum in the case of recurrent middle ear infections to help fluid to drain. They are helpful for children who have frequent and severe fluid build-up and also experience other symptoms like hearing loss. Some doctors recommend ear plugs for children with ear tubes only when in untreated water, such as lakes, rivers and oceans, while others advise wearing them while swimming in any type of water.

A study conducted in the late 1990’s showed that the surface tension of water actually prevents water from entering the ear tubes, unless a child dives three feet or more below the surface. For this reason, some doctors do not see the necessity of swim ear plugs for relaxed, surface swimming. Soapy water actually poses a higher risk, as the soap reduces surface tension and allows water into the tubes, so parents of children with ear tubes should take extra care while bathing their little ones.

There is not a definitive medical answer about whether or not children with ear tubes should wear ear plugs while swimming, so it is up to parents to speak to their doctors and decide what is best.


In what other circumstances should swim ear plugs be worn?

Children who don’t have ear tubes may still need swim ear plugs to enjoy the water safely. The bacteria in water poses a risk for children with a current ear infection or who have had a prior surgery. Swimming underwater and the pressure changes involved, along with swimming in very cold water can also cause earaches, especially for those with ear infections. Ear plugs can help in these cases by keeping the ears protected and dry. If your child currently has or is recovering from a ruptured eardrum, water should be completely avoided until after the infection has cleared.


Types of swim ear plugs

Parents have two options when buying swim ear plugs for their children: custom plugs from a hearing care specialist, or one-size-fits-all swim plugs from a local pharmacy.

Custom plugs have the advantage of being high quality, custom-made, better fitting and longer-lasting than drugstore plugs, as well as added benefit of being washable and thus more hygienic. The downside is that they are considerably more expensive than generic plugs, and will not be easy or cheap to replace if lost.

One-size-fits-all plugs are often made from silicone or putty. They are less expensive and it’s easy to run to the drugstore and buy another pair if the first ones get left at the pool. The disadvantages of these swim plugs are that they aren’t washable and tend to acquire a build-up of wax and debris. Also, with the putty plugs there is a slim chance that small bits of putty could be left behind in the ears (but you can avoid this by choosing silicone).

For more information, contact us at Orange County Physicians’ Hearing Services. We provide hearing health care to children and teens. Here’s to a summer of good hearing and happy swimming!