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One of the most common questions we receive is about ear infections and tubes, and whether your child can swim. The answer depends on your child, the type of infection they have and, ultimately, the advice of your doctor.
An ear infection is the swelling and infection in the inner ear. It can be painful but sometimes a parent does not know their child has one until a doctor confirms it. Because your inner ear is protected by your ear drum, water cannot get in and make the infection worse unless they have a perforated ear drum. A perforated ear drum is extremely painful and can be diagnosed by your doctor.
For babies and toddlers, a regular ear infection or having tubes in the ear shouldn’t stand in the way of their swimming lesson. They tend to stay around the surface of the water, and never go too far under when they submerge. However, older swimmers – especially those who are doing jumps, surface dives and other underwater swims – should avoid swimming at depth because the pressure can cause increased discomfort. With ear tubes specifically, research shows that swimming in clean pool water is fine, and avoiding natural bodies of water (lakes, rivers, oceans) is recommended due to the presence of bacteria.
Keep an eye out for inner ear infections in your babies if they often have congestion or colds. But know that coming to swimming will help them feel better if they are not too lethargic and don’t have a fever or diarrhea.
An infection of the outer ear (swimmer’s ear), is very painful and most commonly seen in older children and adults. Even a slight tug on the ear can be painful. Swimming with swimmer’s ear is possible, but be sure to properly dry out the ear after swimming and bathing. You can use a mixture of rubbing alcohol and distilled vinegar, or purchase one of several over-the-counter options for swimmer’s ear.
Again, consult with your doctor, but also be encouraged that in most cases, your children can swim with an ear infection or ear tubes.