Outer ear infection

What happens?

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The outer ear is the part of the ear from the eardrum to the visible fleshy part seen on the sides of the head (pinna). When there is an infection, the skin of the outer ear canal is inflamed and painful. External ear infections are common in all ages and sexes worldwide.

The infection could be caused by bacteria, fungi, and less commonly by viruses. Things that may predispose to getting outer ear infections include:

  • wetness of the ear canal (which creates a conducive environment for microbes to grow in)
  • damage to the ear canal
  • eczema or another skin problem in the ear
  • reduced immunity, such as in diabetics
  • previous chickenpox infection

What are the symptoms?

Ear pain is the main symptom of an outer ear infection. This pain is usually worsened by pulling on the ear. The ear may feel itchy, and some discharge may be noticed. Hearing may be impaired, and a ringing sound may be heard (tinnitus). Some rashes may also be noticed on the pinna and the ear canal.

The symptoms usually last only a short while, except in very few cases.

What treatments work?

The doctor will gently remove any debris by applying suction or cleansing with cotton wool. This is called ear toileting. If there is any pus present, he may want to send a sample to the lab to determine the organism involved.

Ear drops may be suitable for use for about 3 to 5 days.

If the cause of the infection is an allergy, the cause is found and avoided. The doctor may also prescribe some drugs to keep down the allergic reaction.

Painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen may be taken to ease the pain.

The doctor will give instructions on how to take care of the ear until the infection goes.

What will happen to me?

The infection is usually taken care of within 10 days. But in some cases, this lasts much longer and the doctor has to be consulted again.