Expert Advice -- Ear Infections: Can You Swim With Tubes?

I recently read an article that reported the result of recent research which showed that children with otitis media with effusion who have been treated by the insertion of tympanostomy tubes need not avoid swimming or take particular care to keep water out of the ears. Is this true and where can I find a copy of the article?

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Robert Steele

Robert W. Steele, MD, is a board certified pediatrician at St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield, MO. He graduated from medical... Read more

Since the introduction of ear tubes back in the 50's, there has been a controversy among ENT (Ear, Nose, Throat) doctors whether water exposure causes an increased risk of developing ear infections. There have been several surveys of ENT doctors which indicated that most of them recommend some form of water restriction. However, most of those also said they would change their recommendations if new information was available. Well, Jonathan, the article I think you are referring to is one of the latest which states that water restriction may be unwarranted.

These physicians divided their patients into two groups. One group was not allowed to swim or submerge their heads while bathing, and the other had no restrictions. They found no difference in the incidence of drainage from the ear between the two groups. You may find this article in your local medical library:

Parker GS, Tami T, et al.: The Effect of Water Exposure After Tympanostomy Tube Insertion. Amer. Journal of Otolaryngology 1994 May-June;15(3): 193-6.

This study did not answer the question whether swimming makes the tubes fall out faster. However, after discussing this with my local pediatric ENT doctors, this probably does not occur.

My advice to you is to ask your ENT doctor what his/her recommendations are. You will want to follow your ENT's advice because he/she will have to deal with any complications that may arise, and remember this topic is still controversial. However, it never hurts to teach an old dog new tricks. I know I always appreciate learning things from my patients, so you may want to show this article to your ENT if he hasn't read it already.

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