Otitis Externa – Practical Guide

As the name indicates, Otitis externa, also known as swimmer’s ear, is a common condition characterized by swelling, and infection of the external ear canal. It can be a painful and uncomfortable experience, and if left untreated, can lead to complications.

It is more common in warm and humid climates and affects more males than females. It can be either infectious or non-infectious, the most common cause of is bacterial infection.

Anything that injures the ear canal can lead to this condition. Cleaning the ear canal using ear buds, putting objects such as your finger, hair pins, or paper clips, can injure the canal and increase the risk of infection.
Skin conditions such as dermatitis or eczema can also lead to this condition.

Symptoms: vary from mild to severe and can include:

  • Pain and discomfort in the ear
  • Itchiness
  • Redness and swelling of the ear canal
  • Drainage or discharge from the ear
  • Hearing loss or muffled hearing
  • Fever (in severe cases)

Treatment: The treatment depends on the severity of the condition.

  • Since pain will be intense pain killers will be the first treatment.
  • Secondly there may be swelling of the ear canal which may require ear wicks soaked with IG paint.
  • Antibiotic drops may be prescribed if the infection is bacterial in origin. In severe cases, oral antibiotics may be necessary.

Complications, though rare is possible and one of the dreaded complication is Skull Base Osteomyelitis. Other less dreaded complications are perichondritis and inflammation of the ear drum.

Prevention: Prevention is key in avoiding otitis externa. Measures that can help prevent the condition include:

  1. Avoiding the use of cotton swabs or other objects to clean the ear canal
  2. Drying the ears thoroughly after swimming or showering. I generally recommend my patients to use a hair dryer on low setting and holding it about 12 inches away from the ear to dry out the canal.
  3. Using ear plugs when swimming or showering
  4. Avoiding exposure to irritants such as hair dyes and other chemicals
otitis externa
Share This