Most babies love bath time and splashing about in bubbly water.
Because, what not to like?
Water has this incredible ability to stimulate all of your baby’s senses!
She can see its transparent, bluish colour, hear the splash sounds it makes, feel its warmth on the body, and smell the gentle scent of the bath soap.
Bath time is an excellent opportunity for parents to bond with their infants and spend quality time together.
However, what if water gets into your baby’s ears during bath time? Or perhaps during swimming lessons? Can this lead to an ear infection?
Let me clear your doubts once and for all on this hot topic!
Is It Okay For My Baby To Get Water In Her Ears?
An outer ear infection, commonly known as a swimmer’s ear, occurs when contaminated water accumulates in the ear canal. Therefore, if possible, try to keep your baby’s ears dry. If the water does get into the ears – don’t panic. Just make sure the baby ears are rinsed with clean water and thoroughly dried. Also, avoid cotton using cotton buds, as they may do more harm than good.
1. Can the water in my baby’s ears cause an ear infection?
The short answer is yes – your baby can get an infection from water entering their ears.
To make things clear. The ear infection – otitis externa, or swimmer’s ear affects the outer ear. As the name suggests – swimmers and others who get their ears wet are susceptible to this condition.
Otitis externa is often confused with a much more common type of ear infection caused by a common cold – otitis media. This infection affects the middle part of the ear.
Further below, I will discuss how they differ.
1.1 Middle Ear Infection
Babies are generally prone to getting an ear infection in the middle ear (called otitis media).
It is estimated that around 80 % of babies will have this type of condition before their third birthday.
Otitis media is usually caused by respiratory tract infections that spread to the ears.
So, any prolonged cold symptoms such as sore throat, runny nose, nasal congestion, cough – may turn into a painful ear infection.
This is because mucus builds up behind the eardrum, which blocks the Eustachian tube. The Eustachian tube connects the throat and middle ear.
This accumulated mucous provides a perfect breeding ground for bacteria to thrive, causing ear inflammation and pain.
Baby’s Eustachian tubes are generally more horizontal and narrower than adults’, making it easier for mucous to block them. Hence babies have a tendency to infection of the middle ear.
Often, the condition goes away on its own.
However, if your baby has a temperature, antibiotics may be necessary to treat the problem.
So, as you can see, middle ear infection has nothing to do with water getting into their ears.
Anyhow, that was just a digression to make sure you have everything straight in your head.
Coming back to the main subject…
1.2 A Swimmer’s Ear
A swimmer’s ear or otitis externa is an infection caused by the water collected and stagnating in the external ear canal.
Cold-related infections are much more common than this type.
However, both conditions have different symptoms and treatments, so it is crucial to get the correct diagnosis.
Swimmer’s ear is an irritation of the ear canal lining caused by bacteria and fungi.
Inflammation is not only caused by water trapped from an external source, such as a bath or swimming pool. But also, because of eczema causing the lining to become dry or any physical injuries to the ear canal. You may find a scratch caused by cotton buds or another funky object your little explorer happens to insert into the ear.
The differences between swimmer’s ear and middle ear infection are as follows:
|Swimmer’s Ear (Otitis externa)||Middle Ear infection (Otitis media)|
|Symptoms||Clear fluid leaking from the ear||Pus leaking from the ear|
|Redness and swelling in the outer ear and ear canal||Baby tugging or pulling at the ear|
|Swelling of neck glands||Typical symptoms of the common cold (sinus pressure, sore throat, runny nose)|
|Ear itching, discomfort, and pain||Ear itching, discomfort, and pain|
|Treatment||Treatment depends on the severity of symptoms. It may include pain medicine, ear drops, or antibiotics||Treatment may also require pain medicine and antibiotics. If your baby has a chronic ear infection a tympanostomy tube may be inserted into the eardrum to ventilate the middle clear and prevent fluid collection|
Swimmer’s ear or middle ear infection; how to know the difference
2. Do I Need to Be Extra Cautious about Keeping My Baby’s Ears Away From Water?
Definitely, if your baby is recovering from an ear infection, has a ruptured eardrum, or has another ear condition.
Or if your baby’s doctor recommends it for some reason.
You should avoid any contact with water (including swim classes) during the treatment until all problems fully clear out.
3. So, Is Water Inside A Baby’s Ear A Bad Thing?
Not necessarily. I mean, avoid it if you can. But it is not the end of the world if it happens!
After all, babies spend 9 months surrounded by amniotic fluid. Even their lungs are filled with amniotic fluid to prevent them from drowning. However, the amniotic fluid is a sterile environment that does not contain bacteria. Thus, the baby’s ears cannot be harmed in there.
It is not the case with the water in the bath, swimming pool or the sea. Such water may contain dangerous microorganisms that may result in an infection.
Therefore, if your little one gets some of this water inside the ear, just make sure you rinse her ears with clean water and get the ears dry. This should prevent the bacteria from spreading to the baby’s ear canal.
4. How to remove water from a baby’s ears?
- To remove the water trapped in the ears, tilt your little one’s head to both sides to let the water out.
- Pat-dry the outer ear with a soft towel.
- You can also use the hairdryer to get the ears dry. Keep it at the lowest setting and at a distance of at least 10 cm from your baby.
- Use a swimming cap or removable earplugs during swimming to keep the ear canals dry. Although this might be challenging for young babies.
Related post ==> Can Newborn Babies Swim?
5. Why Not Use Cotton Buds To Clean Baby’s Ears?
Cleaning ears with cotton buds is a big mistake.
Unfortunately, it isn’t common knowledge, hence cleaning ears with cotton buds is widely practised.
The fact is earwax is a natural moisturizer produced within the ear canal. And it has some vital functions.
First, it traps dirt and debris so that they cannot go deeper. It also helps keep bacteria away from the inner ear and prevents it from becoming too dry.
For these precise reasons, you should resist the temptation to clean the inside of your baby’s ears with cotton buds.
Besides, the cotton bud may also cause harm by (a) damaging the eardrum (b) pushing the earwax deeper inside the ear, potentially causing infection.
I understand that earwax may not be aesthetically pleasing, but your baby really needs it. In fact, it is indicative of normal, healthy ears.
Moreover, any wax build-up will naturally migrate outside the ear canal. Meaning – the ear will naturally get rid of the excess wax.
The bottom line is – there is no need to clean the inside of your baby’s ear, especially with cotton buds.
6. Final Few Lines
There you go.
As you can see, water in a baby’s ears is not really as bad as many people believe it to be.
So, you can keep bathing your baby and washing her hair as often as you wish. Maybe even go take your little tot swimming 🙂
Yes, your baby can get an outer ear infection, but only if the water stays inside the ear and is not removed.
So, it is always best to keep the little ears dry.
However, it is best not to use cotton buds to clean or dry your baby’s ears. As they can do more harm than good.