As the weather heats up and we hit the pools, protecting your child’s ears and hearing from harm during water activities becomes more essential. Expert Dr Navid Taghvaei from hearLife Clinic Dubai explains why.
Living in The Gulf we are fortunate to have great weather for most of the year. Kids are especially lucky because they can enjoy all kinds of water activities throughout that period – it keeps them active and happy, and takes some of the pressure off parents to find ways to entertain them. While these water-based activities can bring a great deal of enjoyment, precautionary measures always need to be taken to ensure kids remain safe and well from their youth all the way to adulthood.
There are a few dangers that come to mind when talking about accidents or injuries associated with water activities and one of them is the health of kids’ ears and hearing; they can be just as vulnerable to injury during water activities. In fact there are a few injuries that can cause serious damage to the ear and hearing if precautionary care and prevention is overlooked.
Swimmer’s ear, medically known as otitis externa, is a non-contagious infection of the outer ear canal resulting from water that remains in the ear after any water activity such as swimming. The trapped water in the ear is the perfect environment for bacterial growth which invades and damages the skin in the ear canal. Kids are more susceptible to swimmer’s ear because they have narrower ear canals and water can easily get trapped.
Recognising the symptoms and initiating treatment with ear drops upon consulting your doctor is essential to avoid complications from a more serious infection or permanent hearing loss if left untreated. Symptoms can include redness or inflammation of the outer ear, itching in the ear canal, pus or fluid discharge, ear pain or hearing loss.
Preventing swimmer’s ear is simple, after some time in the water or following a bath, make sure to gently dry your child’s outer ear with a towel and tilt their head to the side to help drain any remaining water.
Surfer’s ear is the abnormal growth of bone in the ear canal. It is called surfer’s ear because it most commonly affects individuals with frequent exposure to cold water, such as surfers. Cold water and wind causes the bone surrounding the ear canal to thicken and restrict the passage way. This is one of the causes of conductive hearing loss, whereby sound is prevented from being conducted from the outer ear through to the middle ear. Narrowness of the ear canal can also cause water, dirt and ear wax to be trapped leading to frequent ear infections.
This condition is not usually common in children, but if you have a child that is eager to become a surfer like their dad or uncle, then early prevention is key as it usually develops over the years. Other water activities associated with surfer’s ear are skiing, kayaking, fishing, sailing or diving.
Ideally surfer’s ear is prevented by avoiding swimming in extremely cold or windy conditions. However, if that comes in the way of practising a favourite water sport, then the best solution is to buy a specially customised set of earplugs as well as wearing a swim cap to prevent surfer’s ear or slow down the growth. Alternatively, the same water activity can be enjoyed in warmer waters.
If diagnosed with surfer’s ear, the best treatment is surgery to remove the excess bone growth if it has become extremely uncomfortable and the cause of repeated infections or hearing loss. The bone can regrow if exposure to cold water is continued.
Barotrauma causes discomfort and possible damage in the ear due to pressure differences between the inside and outside of the eardrum. Commonly known as ‘aeroplane ear’ it is caused by sudden changes in altitude resulting in an imbalance of pressure in the ear. Barotrauma leaves us with an uncomfortable sensation in the ear including muffled hearing, pain and pressure or, more severely, tinnitus (ringing in the ear), vomiting and hearing loss. Usually yawning, chewing gum, swallowing or popping our ears can correct this barotrauma however, in severe cases a doctor’s intervention is necessary.
Scuba diving is a water sport that can cause barotrauma because of the sudden changes in depth and pressure. It is not recommended for children under the age of 12 to scuba dive – it is a sport that requires a certain sense of maturity and skill which comes with proper training, certification and practice. In fact, in order to avoid barotrauma from scuba diving at any age, it is essential to learn how to dive from a certified diving instructor who will teach your older child how to ascend and descend slowly and demonstrate how to optimally equalise ear pressure by a variety techniques. In addition, diving while sick or with congestion from a cold is never recommended.
As the weather warms up and the summer holidays get ever closer, protecting your kids’ ears is as important as ever. Following these tips means your kids can continue to enjoy being water babies while staying safe.