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My baby girl loves taking baths but, of course, we get conflicting information about how often and how careful we should be of water in her ears. The pediatrician said every other day and didn't say anything about being careful about getting water in her ears (though, maybe it's obvious since, you know, you gotta keep her head above water).

Anyway, is it really that big a deal if water gets in her ears? She turns her head and unless I try really hard water makes it's way in there, especially when washing her hair.

Will this cause ear infections? For reference, the infant in question is seven weeks old.

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You didn't mention her age. –  AbdulAziz May 23 '12 at 13:54
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Oh, she's 7 weeks! –  tooshel May 24 '12 at 16:52

10 Answers 10

We not only used to bathe the kids in such a way that their ears were definitely under water when rinsing their hair, but took them swimming from a couple of months old.

If the water is from a source which could contain infection - eg the sea, or a public swimming pool - you just give the ears a good rinse when they get out and then dry.

When children are older they can learn how to tip their heads to help water escape, but for now you can easily wick up any water in their using the end of a tissue - nothing dangerous, just get the corner folded up enough that you can reach into the ear and the water will wick straight into the tissue.

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Agreed ! We started going to the swimming-pool with kids around 4-5 months. At the moment only one small ear infection was caught (she's 26 months), not even related to swimming and it was cured very quickly. However while she was under treatment, the doctor recommended to avoid water for a few days. –  Michel Daviot May 7 '13 at 21:22

The reason behind the "keep water out of the ear" thing stems from the fact that an infant's ear canal is angled differently than an adult's (or even an older child's). In an infant, the angle is such that it is more prone to collecting water, which can then sit, stagnate, and eventually lead to ear infections.

Some children are so prone to ear infections due to this that they have to have tubes put in (generally, more than 4 ear infections in 6 months warrants a trip to an Ear Nose and Throat specialist) to help the water drain out. If you've ever had an ear infection, you probably know why recurring ear infections are bad in young children, aside from the fact that they just plain suck - it makes it difficult to hear, and for young children, it can slow language development, which can cause long-term issues.

So yes, it's a good idea to avoid getting water in an infant's ears. However, life happens and there are a number of ways to help drain or dry the water. Rory's answer has some good tips on that.

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" In an infant, the angle is such that it is more prone to collecting water, which can then sit, stagnate, and eventually lead to ear infections." This is misleading. Ear infections on infancy and toddlerhood are generally of the middle ear, which is uninfluenced by the ear canal. The length is actually shorted, and drains well. –  anongoodnurse Jul 2 at 7:17

My baby girl has been taking swimming lessons from the age of 3 months, with her head or at least ears most of the time in the water. She's been doing that for 2 years hitherto with a lot of other babies or children without any illness or so, so I guess this is definitely not a big deal. We were also never invited, was it by the teacher or even a MD to be careful about that.

Now some children will be more subject to ear infection or so, for sure, but I wouldn't say as a general advise that getting water in the ears is somtehing to avoid...

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@Rory Alsop is correct.

First, terms need to be defined.

enter image description here

There are basically 4 parts of the ear. The outside of the ear (what you can move around with manipulation) is called the auricle or pinna. Occasionally it can become infected, and this is called malignant otitis externa. It is relatively uncommon.

The ear canal (the acoustic auditory meatus or the acoustic canal) can become infected; this is called otitis externa (also known as "swimmer's ear".) It is relatively common, especially in swimmers, people who wear ear plugs, people who clear ear wax out with bobby pins, etc. etc.

The middle ear is separated from the outer ear by the tympanic membrane (a.k.a. "ear drum".) The ear drum prevents water from entering the middle ear. However, there is an entry into the middle ear (where the bones that transmit vibration from the ear drum to the acoustic nerve are housed) from the outer world, and that's through the Eustachian tube, the other end of which opens into the back of your nose/upper throat. This tube is what allows your ear to pop when the atmospheric pressure changes (like on a plane.) This is the area where most ear infections occur. An infection here is called "an ear infection" by laypeople, and otitis media by health care professionals. This is by far the most common.

Finally, there is the inner ear involved in both balance and hearing. An infection here ("a.k.a. inner ear infection") is relatively uncommon, but more common in the elderly, is usually viral, and causes you to feel very dizzy with movement (vertigo).

It's very unusual for infants or small children to get otitis externa unless they are immunocompromised or someone is digging around in there with a fingernail, a Q-tip, or other, or they have eczema of the ear. They might get it by swimming in a very polluted river (which is an activity infants and small children do not engage in frequently), but they will not likely get it from bath water.

Far more likely from swimming in a polluted water source is a middle ear infection because the polluted water gets in your mouth (and throat), and some is pushed up the Eustachian tube into the middle ear.

Infants and children have more "ear infections" (otitis media) because their Eustachian tubes are shorter and at a lesser angle than in adults.

In fact, the ear canal of an infant is different from an adult's. It's shorter and it's angled differently (this is taken into consideration during the ear exam.)

A normal baby will not get an ear infection by getting bathwater in his or her ears any more than a normal adult will. If they did, ED would be full of such children every day. It's far more likely that a baby will get an ear infection by getting bathwater in their mouths (because of that Eustachian tube) than in their ear, and that doesn't happen often either. Otherwise every time a baby put something nasty in their mouths, they would get ear infections.

Image source AnatomyArea.com.

If you want to decrease ear infections in infants, you might want to get them vaccinated.

HOW TO USE AN OTOSCOPE
Pneumococcal capsular polysaccharides conjugated to protein D for prevention of acute otitis media caused by both Streptococcus pneumoniae and non-typable Haemophilus influenzae: a randomised double-blind efficacy study
Serotype Distribution and Penicillin Resistance of Streptococcus pneumoniae Isolates from Middle Ear Fluids of Pediatric Patients with Acute Otitis Media in Japan
Influenza A Vaccine Decreases the Incidence of Otitis Media in 6- to 30-Month-Old Children in Day Care

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I can't imagine that this is a problem, I used to get water in my ears all of the time when I was younger, particularly during bathing. In fact, I used to completely submerge my head (apart from my nose) in the bath water to rinse the shampoo from my head when my hair was washed (due to an aversion to having water poured on my head). I have never had an ear infection.

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You remember this as a baby? –  LarsTech May 23 '12 at 2:45
    
From two years of age... I am assuming that similar practises were used before then. –  Nico Burns May 23 '12 at 13:14

http://www.drgreene.com/qa-articles/causes-ear-infections/

Specifically says it can't cause an ear infection.

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Hi Shania, and welcome to Parenting SE! Could you maybe flesh out your answer a bit more for us? Usually link only answers aren't very well received in the SE community. –  Brian Robbins Jul 1 at 20:33
    
Hey Shania, and welcome to Parenting SE! Please note that most websites are not definite and sure sources of information. This article you pasted does not cite any research, show statistics, graphs, correlations, nothing. Anti-vaccine movements also have their websites where they write, in a similar, confident tone about things which are in opposition to science. –  Dariusz Jul 2 at 11:38

I don't think this will cause an ear infection the child lived in water for 9 months so why should water cause their ears to hurt?

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Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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Welcome to parenting.stackexchange. The amniotic fluid inside the womb is a bit different than water from the tap. Can you provide some personal experience or a bit of research to support your idea? –  MJ6 Nov 19 '13 at 0:15

Unless it is sterilized water, a newborn or very young baby should not have water go inside ear canal.

Babies immune systems are different and immature. Some grownup recurring sinus infections and infections are attributed to mold in the cavities.

I use to take Qtips and go gently with Olive oil around my babies ears, later on as they got older they ended up with water inside! Everyone does it differently.

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Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

Yes I had ear infection before the specialist said use a bit Vaseline on the cotton ball to put in ears like wearing ear plugs to prevent the water getting into ears.

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I'm not sure that a specialist advising you to keep water out of an ear that is already infected is the same as saying water should be kept out of an infant's ear to avoid infection. –  Beofett Apr 8 '13 at 13:39
    
I can't understand how anything involving vaseline and a baby's ear could be anything but bad. You'll never get it all out. –  monsto Aug 21 '13 at 12:27

Will this cause ear infections?

Yes, this will cause infection in her ear.

To prevent water to get in her ear, you should apply a very little amount of Vaseline or use a piece of cotton to put at start of her ear.

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Your second two sources say that water in the ear will not cause an ear infection... –  Erica 8 hours ago

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