Otitis externa is a condition that causes inflammation (redness and swelling) of the external ear canal, which isthe tube between the outer ear and eardrum.

Otitis externa is often referred to as "swimmer's ear" becauserepeated exposure to water can make the ear canal more vulnerable to inflammation.

Symptoms of otitis externa include:

  • ear pain, which can be severe
  • itchiness in the ear canal
  • a discharge of liquid or pus from the ear
  • some degree of temporary Hearing impairment

Usually only one ear is affected.

With treatment, these symptoms should clear up within a few days. However, some cases can persist for several months or longer.

Theymay also examine insideyour ear using an instrument called an otoscope.

If you have recurring episodes of otitis externa that haven't responded to treatment, your GP may take a swab of the inside of your ear. This will be tested to help determine what type of infection you have, if any,so appropriate medication can be prescribed.

What causes otitis externa?

Most cases of otitis externa are caused by a bacterial infection, althoughthe conditioncan also be caused by:

  • irritation
  • fungal infections
  • allergies

There are a number of things that can make you more likely to develop otitis externa, including:

  • damaging the skin inside your ear
  • regularly getting water in your ear

Getting water in your ear is particularly significant, because this can cause you to scratch inside your ear, and the moisture alsoprovides an ideal environment for bacteria to grow.

It's estimated that around 1 in 10 people will be affected by it at some point in their lives.

The condition is slightly more common in women than men and is most often diagnosed in adults aged 45 to 75.

People with certain long-term (chronic) conditions are at greater risk of developing the condition.These include:

  • eczema
  • asthma
  • allergic rhinitis

How otitis externa is treated

Otitis externa sometimes gets better without treatment, but it can take several weeks. Your GP can prescribe ear drop medication that usually improves the symptoms within a few days.

There are a number ofdifferent types of ear drops that may be used to treat otitis externa, but they all tend to be used several times a day for about a week.

Your GP may refer you to a specialist for further treatment and adviceif symptoms are severe or they fail to respond to treatment.

One rare complication of otitis externa is malignant otitis externa, whichis where an infection spreads from the ear canal into the surrounding bone.

Thisrequires prompt treatment with antibiotics and sometimes surgery, as it canbe fatal if left untreated.


Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 5 Jan 2017