Outer Ear Infections

Outer ear infections (which are often known as Otitis Externe) come in two main types which are an acute infection or a chronic condition. The major difference between the two is that the acute infection comes on very quickly and generally does not last longer than 7 days once treatment has been applied. If you are suffering from a chronic outer ear infection, it is likely that you will suffer for a much longer period of time or the problems will keep on recurring.

There are a whole raft of things which can cause an outer ear infection from something which irritates the ear canal to more severe bumps that actually damage the outer ear. This means that simply cleaning your ears with cotton buds(don’t do it!!) could cause outer ear infections if you were not careful and perhaps scratched the skin. Similarly, the removal of ear wax or accidentally pushing the ear wax back into your ear, can have the potential to cause an infection, although this happens rarely compared to how many times it is done.

While ear wax can be unsightly, it actually serves a purpose with respect to keeping people’s ears in good condition, and it is when people interfere with the earwax that it could cause more problems or damage to their ear. Another issue that can arise in this part of the ear is when a follicle of hair becomes infected, which can in extreme cases result in a boil.

One other main form of infection surrounding this area of the ear is when the ear drum is infected. This sort of infection commonly occurs after someone has spent time in water, which is why it is commonly referred to as a swimmer’s ear.


ear painSymptoms of Outer Ear Infections

There are a number of symptoms to look out for with respect to an outer ear infection. Anyone suffering from pain in their ear or finding that their ear is itchy may be suffering from an outer ear infection. People should also be on the lookout for any discharge coming from your ear or for a temporary sense of reduced or dulled hearing. This can occur if the swelling in your ear is sufficient enough to block the canal and reduce the level of hearing. Anyone that suffers from these symptoms should make an appointment with their doctor to be professionally examined.


Complications That Can Arise

If the infection from your outer ear is allowed to spread, it can spread across the skin and on some occasions, it can even form an abscess. While not being a common occurrence, there is a risk of the infection spreading to become a more severe form of infection which is referred to as a malignant otitis. This occurs when the infection is able to spread to the bones that are located around the ear in the skull area. It should be noted that this is a rare form of infection but if it occurs and it is not properly treated, there is a likelihood it can become life-threatening. This form of outcome is more likely if a person suffers from diabetes or they have issues with their immune system. It should also be noted that if an infection in the outer ear is not treated, deafness can occur. This occurs when the ear canal is allowed to become narrow or blocked.


What Are The Causes?

There are a number of causes of an outer ear infection and as previously stated  anything which manages to irritate the skin of the canal or which causes an allergic reaction can be responsible for this form of infection. It is believed that the majority of infections in the outer ear area are caused by yeast or bacteria.

People who place things into their ear canal such as a cotton bud, a fingernail or a pen lid will find themselves at a higher risk of an infection in their outer ear. The skin of the outer part of the ear is extremely sensitive making it vulnerable to infection and it can be easily damaged. There is a very old saying:
“You should never stick anything inside your ear smaller than your elbow.” – it makes so much sense

Anyone that uses a hearing aid or regularly wears ear plugs will find that they are at an increased risk of suffering from an outer ear condition. People who swim on a regular basis will also find that they are more at risk of suffering from an outer ear infection. This is even more so for people who swim in water that has been contaminated.

People who visit or stay in an area that has a humid and hot climate will be more at risk, with this condition being referred to as a tropical ear infection. People who have skin sensitivity issues may find that their choice of cleaning or hair care products cause an aggravation or irritation of the ear canal also.


Who Is Affected By Outer Ear Infections?

Otitis externa is relatively common. It is estimated that around 10% of the population will be affected at some point in their lives. The condition is slightly more common in women than men (possibly because more women go swimming regularly). People with certain long-term (chronic) conditions, such as eczema, asthma or allergic rhinitis, are at greater risk of developing otitis externa.


How Can It Be Diagnosed?

When your doctor is examining you, they will likely ask about your symptoms and your health history. A doctor will almost certainly look into your ear and they may also ask you to move your jaw to see if there is any pain when you do it. They will examine the parts of the face and skull that are in the immediate vicinity of your ear/pain for any noticeable problems.

If the infection is either not clearing after treatment or it reoccurs, your doctor is likely to take a swab any discharge that is occurring and send it away to be analysed. The purpose of this is to determine if the infection is a bacterial infection or a fungal one. If the problems persists despite having ongoing treatment it could be your Doctor will then refer you to an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) consultant.


What Are My Treatment Options?

When suffering from an outer ear infection, regular painkiller products can be used to relieve pain or to make the pain more bearable. If you are suffering from a bacterial infection, it may be drops or a spray will be used. This is a good form of treatment for mild infections and they can be obtained over the counter. If the symptoms are more severe, antibiotics can be prescribed.