Q: Our toddler had frequent ear infections and got tubes in her ears this winter. Now it's hot, and we'd like to take her to the pool. Is is all right for her to swim?
A: Doctors call the ear "tubes" you're referring to as "tympanostomy" tubes. They create a small artificial opening in the ear drum (tympanic membrane), so that air pressures can equalize on the two sides of the ear drum and fluid cannot become trapped in the middle ear where it might promote bacterial growth and start another ear infection.
Some children who have tubes in their ears have drainage at least part of the time. Swimming does not seem to affect ear drainage. Water is unlikely to enter the ear during bathing, showers, surface swimming or wading and splashing in the kiddie pool. However, water probably does enter the ear when the head is submerged, so some doctors feel it's a good idea for the child to wear ear plugs when the head is dunked in dirty water, including lakes, ponds, rivers and the bathtub! Bacteria don't grow well in the chlorinated water of public pools, so ear plugs there may not be necessary.
Doctors who put in tympanostomy tubes don't all agree about water rules, so call your child's surgeon.
Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.