Otitis externa

Book an Appointment

Overview

Otitis externa (OE) is an inflammation, that can be either infectious or non-infectious, of the external auditory canal. In some cases, inflammation can extend to the outer ear, such as the pinna or tragus. OE can be classified as acute (lasts less than 6 weeks) or chronic (lasts more than 3 months). It is also known as swimmer's ear as it often occurs during the summer and in tropical climates and having retained water in the ears increases the risk for it. The most common cause of acute otitis externa is a bacterial infection. It may be associated with allergies, eczema, and psoriasis.

Symptoms

ear pain.

itching and irritation in and around your ear canal.

redness and swelling of your outer ear and ear canal.

a feeling of pressure and fullness inside your ear.

scaly skin in and around your ear canal, which may peel off.

Causes

Swimmer's ear is an infection that's usually caused by bacteria. It's less common for a fungus or virus to cause swimmer's ear.

Your ear's natural defenses

Your outer ear canals have natural defenses that help keep them clean and prevent infection. Protective features include:

A thin, water-repellent, slightly acidic film lines the ear canal and discourages bacterial growth. Earwax (cerumen) is an accumulation of this waxy film, dead skin cells and other debris that travels to the opening of the ear canal to keep it clean.

The outer ear, particularly around the opening of the ear canal, helps prevent foreign bodies from entering.

Risk factors

Swimming. People who swim regularly stand a higher chance of developing otitis externa, particularly those who swim in unsanitary water. ...

Warm weather. ...

Ear damage. ...

Skin conditions. ...

Excessive earwax. ...

Otitis media (middle ear infection). ...

Weakened immune system.

Calendar Schedule

Have a medical question?

We are available to help you with all your questions and concerns.

Complications

Abscesses. Abscesses are painful, pus-filled growths that can form in and around the affected ear after an infection. ...

Narrowing of the ear canal. ...

Inflamed or perforated eardrum. ...

Cellulitis. ...

Necrotizing otitis externa.

Prevention

Keep ears as dry as possible. Place a shower cap over your head to help prevent water or hair shampoo from getting into your ears. Place a cotton ball in the ear but do not push it in far. Use a dry towel to dry your ears after bathing or swimming. Use ear plugs if you play water sports or are frequently in water.

Turn your head from side to side after getting out of water. This helps water drain from your ears.

Don't stick anything into your ear canal. This includes pens/pencils, fingers, bobby clips or cotton-tipped swabs. (Swabs should only be used to dry the outer ear.)

Don't swim in polluted water.

Do not swallow the water you swim in.

Use a simple, homemade solution to help prevent bacteria from growing inside the ear. Mix one drop of vinegar with one drop of isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol and put one drop in each ear after bathing or swimming. Be sure to check with your doctor first before making and using this homemade solution.