Otitis externa (also called swimmer's ear or ear ache) is an inflammation, irritation, or infection of the outer ear and ear canal. more...
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Otitis externa is fairly common, especially among teenagers and young adults. Swimming in polluted water is one way to contract swimmer's ear, but it is also possible to contract swimmer's ear by swimming in a pool that is well maintained or even from water trapped in the ear canal after a shower, especially in a humid climate. Water trapped in the ear canal is not the only cause, however -- the condition can be caused by scratching the ear or an object stuck in it. Trying to clean wax from the ear canal, especially with cotton swabs or small objects, can irritate or damage the skin. It is occasionally associated with middle ear infection (otitis media) or upper respiratory infections such as colds. Middle ear infections can occur after the ear drum is perforated by a fungal growth from the outer ear. Moisture in the ear predisposes the ear to infection from fungus or water-loving bacteria such as Pseudomonas.
- Ear pain -- may worsen when pulling the outer ear
- Itching of the ear or ear canal
- Drainage from the ear -- yellow, yellow-green, pus-like, or foul smelling
- Decreased hearing or hearing loss
Signs and tests
When the physician looks in the ear, it appears red and swollen, including the ear canal. The ear canal may appear eczema-like, with scaly shedding of skin. Touching or moving the outer ear increases the pain. It may be difficult for the physician to see the eardrum with an otoscope. Taking some of the ear's drainage and doing a culture on it may identify bacteria or fungus.
The goal of treatment is to cure the infection. The ear canal should be cleaned of drainage to allow topical medications to work effectively. Depending on how severe the infection is, it may be necessary for a doctor to aspirate the ear as many times as twice a week for the first two or three weeks of treatment.
Effective medications include eardrops containing antibiotics to fight infection, and corticosteroids to reduce itching and inflammation. Use of antibiotics to treat ear infections may result in treatment of the wrong cause of the infection because not all ear infections are bacterial; some are fungal, and it is possible to have both a bacterial and fungal ear infection.
Ear drops should be used abundantly (four or five drops at a time) in order to penetrate the end of the ear canal. If the ear canal is very swollen, a wick may be applied in the ear to allow the drops to travel to the end of the canal. Occasionally, pills may be used in addition to the topical medications. Analgesics may be used if pain is severe. Putting something warm against the ears may reduce pain.
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