Otitis Externa

Girl has a sore ear

The ear is comprised of the inner ear, middle ear and outer ear. Otitis externa is type of ear infection which is less common than others and affects the outer, or external ear, resulting in the inflammation of the skin of the ear canal. It is more commonly  known as ‘swimmer’s ear’. During this illness, the outer ear becomes very sensitive to the touch. This disease can be categorized into two subtypes: chronic or acute otitis externa. Usually, the lesser (acute) condition will cause pain and swelling over a short period of time, with a quick onset. In worse cases of this condition, temporary hearing loss can occur, or the inflammation can spread to other areas of the face, such as the mouth.


Germs and damage to the skin within the ear canal are the main reasons for the development of otitis externa. Too much wetness within the ear will cause this condition, hence, the popular name: swimmer’s ear. This may be due to improper drying practices or due to an accidental entrapment of water in the ear. Humidity, being submerged in polluted water; a narrowness of the ear canal, as well as anything which can tear the inside of the ear can result in otitis externa. Often, the condition can be caused by improper cleaning practices, such as not being careful enough with a cotton swab. The infection can be bacterial or fungal. Fungal infections can go unnoticed for a long time until aggravated. One of the most common forms of fungus causing otitis externa is called: pseudomonas aeruginosa.  It is important to remember that any of the previously mentioned factors can make the sickness a lot worse even after its onset. If other conditions have compromised the integrity of the epidermis in this area, it is more likely to develop otitis externa.


The most commonly recognized sign of any ear infection is the accompanying earache.  However, one distinguishing feature of this particular condition is that the pain drastically worsens if the infected area is touched. In addition to the great sensitivity of the skin around the ear, this type of ear infection is more readily visible than the others, due to swelling. The skin may become tight, irritated or itchy. It may also peel or crust over in later stages. As with otitis media, there may be a discharge coming out of the ear, as well as a blockage from the condition which can cause hearing loss for the duration of the infection. The discomfort accompanying an external ear infection can also spread to the throat, causing a throat irritation.


A common and effective product which treats otitis externa is called ‘Burrow’s Solution’. It is known to work well regardless if it is a fungus or bacterial problem. Avoid getting your ear wet or touching it if you are suffering from this ailment. In very mild cases this may be enough to stop it, without intervention from a doctor. It is most important to remember that the sickness can be severely aggravated and painful if there is any more scratching applied to the ear. This is most often the result of cleaning too hard with a cotton swab.  Seeking the attention of a physician is the best way to treat this, as it is usually too painful to wait out. Antifungal eardrops are also used in the case of fungal infections. Acidic solutions such as acetic acid may also be employed alone or in combination with agents which will cause the ear to dry out. There are a variety of topical creams and eardrops available to halt the development of the infection. Generally, if the canal has been cleaned of obstructions, such as dead skin or other discharges, it can heal fully within a matter of days with these ointments. However, recurrence is not uncommon until the healing stages are over.