Nothing seems to take the fun out of summer more than when a child complains of an earache during a family vacation at the beach. Let me lend you an ear and a few tips on something we call swimmer's ear. While most ear infections during the winter are a complication of a cold, swimmers ear occurs when the ear canal is constantly exposed to water and heatthe result of your child living in pools, lakes and water parks during the summer. This frequent exposure to water and heat causes the ear canal to become soggy, allowing bacteria to grow. Initially, the ear may seem plugged, but within a day or two it becomes quite painful and sensitive to even a gentle touch. Treatment involves inserting a mixture of equal parts of rubbing alcohol and vinegar into the ear using a dropper. This sterilizes and dries the ear canal, cleans out debris, and kills bacteria and mold. But these should not be used if you think the ear drum is perforated; so if you are in doubt, have your pediatrician check the ear. He or she may recommend antibiotic ear drops if the home remedy doesn't work and that your child stay out of the water for five to seven days. For your childs discomfort, try acetaminophen, or use a warm cotton cloth or heating pad against the ear. If you want to prevent swimmers ear, make sure your child dries his or her ears thoroughly after coming out of the water, and comes out at least every hour or two to let the ear canals dry out. Hopefully tips like this will not leave you all wet when it comes to making sure your child does not contract swimmer's ear. Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Childrens Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch First with Kids weekly on WOKO 98.9 FM and WCAX-TV Channel 3. Visit the First with Kids archives at www.vermontchildrens.org.

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