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Otitis externa

AGE  Not significant factorsGENDER  Not significant factors
LIFESTYLE  Swimming or wearing a hearing aid or earplugs are risk factorsGENETICS  Not significant factors

Otitis externa is the inflammation of the ear canal, commonly known as “swimmer's ear”.

Otitis externa
© Jupiter

In otitis externa, the ear canal becomes inflamed, usually because of bacterial, viral, or fungal infection. Otitis externa often develops after swimming because persistent moisture within the ear canal increases the risk of infection. The condition can also affect people who work in a hot and humid environment or who wear a hearing aid or earplugs. Scratching the ear with a cotton swab or fingernail is another cause of otitis externa. Less commonly, the infection occurs as a reaction to chemicals such as those in eardrops or hair dye.

What are the symptoms of otitis externa?

The symptoms of otitis externa usually appear over 1-2 days and may include:

  • Itching and/or pain within the ear canal at the affected site.
  • Discharge of pus from the ear.

If pus blocks the canal, see your doctor rather than trying to remove it yourself.

What might be done?

Your doctor will examine your ear with an otoscope (see Otoscopy). If there is pus present, indicating infection, he or she may take a swab to identify the organism responsible. The ear canal may also be cleaned out using a suction device. Depending on the type of infection present, your doctor may prescribe eardrops that contain an antibiotic or antifungal and/or a corticosteroid (see Drugs acting on the ear). An oral painkiller may also be given to relieve discomfort.

If you have a severe bacterial infection, your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics. Most viral infections are treated solely with painkillers. However, if the condition is caused by the herpes virus, you may be prescribed an oral antiviral drug, sometimes with a corticosteroid. The disorder usually clears up in a few days.

Posted 09.09.2010

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