Know the basics
What is otitis externa?
Otitis externa is the infection of the thin skin covering the outer ear canal, usually due to bacteria or fungi, in some cases. The ear canal goes from the eardrum and the outside of the ear. Otitis externa usually occurs a few days after you go swimming and can be acute or chronic.
How common is otitis externa?
This health condition is common with children and people often go swimming. People with diabetes mellitus or skin allergies and those whose ears do not make enough wax are also more prone to get this infection. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
Know the symptoms
What are the symptoms of otitis externa?
There are some signs and symptoms:
- Ear pain that gets worse when pulling on the earlobe or pushing in the ear;
- Itching in the ear;
- Slight fever (sometimes);
- Pus coming from the ear;
- Temporary loss of hearing in the ear;
- Sometimes a small painful lump or boil in the ear canal. These boils may cause severe pain. If they burst, a small amount of blood or pus may leak from the ear.
There may be some signs or symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms of otitis externa. Call your doctor immediately or hospitalize if you have any of following signs:
- Severe pain;
Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
Know the causes
What causes otitis externa?
The infection can start after swimming in dirty water. Usually, pseudomonas and other bacteria living in water can cause otitis externa. In some rare cases, the infection may be caused by fungi. Other causes of otitis externa include:
- Stretch ear or the inner of the ear;
- Unidentified objects stuck inside the ear;
- Clean the ear too hard with a bobby pin, cotton swab, or other object can cause the disorder.
Chronic otitis externa can be caused by:
- An allergy to something inside the ear.
- Chronic skin diseases such as eczema or psoriasis.
Know the risk factors
What increases my risk for otitis externa?
There are many risk factors for otitis externa, such as:
- Regularly go swimming.
- Swim in water with high amount of bacteria.
- Narrow ear tubes in children, for example, can easily keep water inside the ear which increases the risk for otitis externa.
- Clean your ears too much with cotton swab or other object.
- Use some devices too much such as ear phones or deaf-aid.
- Be skin allergic or stimulated by accessories, hairspray or rinse.
Understand the diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is otitis externa diagnosed?
Your doctor will examine the ear and in cases of severe or recurrent infection may take a sample of the fluid from the ear for study.
How is otitis externa treated?
In most of cases, you need to use ear drops containing antibiotic from 10 to 14 days.
Other treatment includes:
- Take antibiotic if you have the infection of the middle ear or the outside of the ear.
- Use Corticosteroid for itchiness and inflammation.
- Use pain relief such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin).
- Drop some vinegar (acid acetic) into your ear.
- Warm compress to reduce some slight pain.
The ear canal should not get wet for 7 to 10 days after all symptoms go away.
People with chronic otitis externa need long-termed treatment or regular follow-up examinations to prevent complications.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage otitis externa?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with otitis externa:
- Keep water out of your ear. Wear earplugs or a shower cap when swimming.
- You are your doctor if pain continues in spite of treatment or if your ears feel clogged.
- Use eardrops as directed.
- Call your doctor if pain becomes severe and is helped by nonprescription drugs.
- You are your doctor if you get a high temperature after treatment starts.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Ferri, Fred. Ferri’s Netter Patient Advisor. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders / Elsevier, 2012. Download version.
Swimmers ear. http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/rwi/illnesses/swimmers-ear.html. Accessed July 14, 2016.
Swimmers ear. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/swimmers-ear/basics/tests-diagnosis/con-20014723. Accessed July 14, 2016.
Swimmers ear. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000622.htm. Accessed July 14, 2016.
Review Date: May 30, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017