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5 Summertime Tips for Healthy Ears

Experts explain how to avoid ear problems that are triggered by everything from swimming to loud music.

No. 3: How to Treat Swimmer's Ear

Maddern says you might want to make sure your child's ears are not packed with wax and debris before the summer-long pool dunking starts. "If there is a lot of stuff down there and it is not addressed and warmth and bacteria-filled water is added," he says, "swimmer's ear can result."

Swimmer's ear is caused by any number of common bacteria found in lakes, hot tubs, and pools. In many cases, the infection gets going from a trauma in the ear canal – possibly a nick or scratch.

Swimmer's ear starts out as itching and maybe some soreness inside the ear but soon becomes severely painful and swollen, especially if you press on the little flap next to the ear opening.

"The doctor," Rosenfeld says, "may clean everything out. If the ear is swollen shut at this point, he or she may also put in a wick, which is a cellulose sponge that will carry the prescription drops to the infection."

Rosenfeld does not recommend that you use earplugs in the pool, however. "These can also cause trauma in the ear canal," he points out.

People who wear hearing aids are especially prone to swimmer's ear, according to Rosenfeld. "If you get a case, leave out the hearing aids for awhile," he advises.

No. 4: Pierce Only in the Lobe

Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, is co-director of laser surgery at the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery in Washington, and teaches at Johns Hopkins University.

She tells WebMD that she worries about people neglecting to put sunblock on their ears. "The ears are very sensitive to sun," she exclaims. "Don't forget them."

Tanzi says she sees a fair amount of skin cancer on the top of the ear. It starts out as a red, flaky patch and can bleed easily if scratched. Consult a doctor if this occurs.

As for insect repellent, it's OK to put it on the outer ear. Never spray inside.

As for piercing, Tanzi recommends sticking with the lobe area, which has a good blood supply to fight infection. Piercing up the curve goes into cartilage, which has a shortage of blood and where a serious infection can get going and not leave. "It can be very difficult to clear those," Tanzi says.

Take care of newly pierced ears as instructed. Wash your hands before handling the area. Then soak a cotton ball in alcohol and smoosh it around over the earring and post several times a day. If the lobe starts to get hot or itchy (hours or days after the piercing), you may have an infection. If this cannot be stopped with antibiotic cream, you may need to let the hole close.

As for earrings, if you have a contact allergy to nickel, which is common, stick with gold or stainless steel posts or hooks. Tanzi says that commercial coatings for ear wires designed to keep the nickel away from the skin don't work well for the severely allergic.

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