Otitis Externa (Swimmer’s Ear) Pediatric Care Plan

By David Shafran, MD
Medically reviewed
December 8, 2020

What is Otitis Externa?

Otitis externa, or outer ear infection, is an infection of the external auditory canal, the tube leading to the eardrum. The infection occurs when the skin of this canal cracks and bacteria are able to enter. This condition is also commonly called ‘swimmer’s ear’ since swimming can be a cause. Use of ear buds or cleaning too vigorously with cue-tips can also damage the ear canal. Pain and swelling can become significant.

Diagnosis is made by looking at the canal for inflammation, swelling, and other signs of infection. If pulling on the top part of the ear or pressing on the notch at the front of the ear called the tragus causes pain, these can also be signs of an outer ear infection.

Read more about ear infections

Otitis Externa Treatment Includes:

  • Topical antibiotic, typically mixed with a topical steroid. The antibiotic treats the infection and the steroid reduces the pain and inflammation. Using a cotton ball after applying the medication can help keep the medicine in the canal.
  • Pain medication like Tylenol and ibuprofen can be used to ease discomfort.
  • Ear canal clearing may be required. Clearing the ear of debris will allow the topical medication to work more effectively.
  • Protect the canal when bathing while being treated for an outer ear infection by using a cotton ball.

How Can I Prevent my Child from Getting Otitis Externa?

  • If swimming was the cause, don’t return to swimming until the infection is better
  • Avoid using ear buds until the infection is better
  • NEVER clean inside the ear canal with a cue-tip. In fact, never put anything in the canal ever.
  • Don’t use hearing aids until the infection is better

Check in With K If…

  • You have general questions about your child’s condition
  • You want general followup for your child
  • You have questions about supportive care
  • Your child’s symptoms don’t go away after treatment but are not alarming

See a Doctor in Person If…

  • Your child’s pain gets worse
  • Your child’s ear canal becomes more swollen
  • Your child develops or continues to have ear drainage or bleeding
  • Your child has any change in hearing
  • Your child isn’t acting like themselves
  • Your child develops a bad headache or vomiting
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

David Shafran, MD

Dr. Shafran is a board-certified pediatrics physician. He joins K Health from the Cleveland Clinic, where he led a pediatrics practice and completed a fellowship in transplant ethics. He has completed multiple fellowships, including one in pediatric nephrology at Rainbow, Babies & Children's University Hospitals. He received his medical degree from the Sackler School of Medicine in Tel Aviv and completed his medical residency at the Jacobi Medical Center.