Otitis externa is a skin infection of the outer ear canal. This often occurs after ingress of water, or by minor injury to the ear canal due to use of cotton buds or other objects.
One of the risk factors for otitis externa include moisture trapped in the ear canal. This can occur after swimming, bathing, or hot humid weather. Bacteria that cause the infection are able to grow and multiply easily in the warm moist environment. Often a fungus may also cause this infection (otomycosis).
The other factor is injury to the ear canal skin . This usually happens during attempts to clean the ear with objects, such as a cotton buds or paper clip. This break in the skin may allow bacteria to enter and start an infection.
Patients with otitis externa may have an earache or an itch, blocked sensation in the ear, swelling of the ear canal and thick discharge.
Many cases of otitis externa may be prevented by decreasing the opportunity for water to enter the ear canal by carefully drying the ears after swimming or bathing and wear earplugs while swimming.
Do not use objects to clean the ear (for example, paper clips, pens or fingernails) that may tear the skin. Most people have ears that are self-cleansing, and cleaning with a cotton bud is unnecessary and potentially harmful. People who have excess wax buildup should have it removed by a doctor who can remove the debris under direct vision.
Most cases are treated with antibiotic and steroid eardrops for 7-10 days. If the ear canal is very swollen, a wick may be placed into the canal to allow the ear drops to reach the appropriate location.
Occasionally, an oral antibiotic may be prescribed as well as the eardrops. Pain medication is often needed for a few days until the infection is under control. The ear canal should be kept dry during treatment. An earplug or small cotton ball coated with Vaseline can be used during bathing to keep water out.