Outer Ear Infections

Written by Amy Hall
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Outer ear infections are actually less common than middle ear infections, however they can still be incredibly painful. Usually, otitis externa is referred to as swimmer's ear, but you do not actually have to be a swimmer to get it. Any trauma to the ear canal can bring on an infection, including eczema, a heat rash, dry skin, or a cut from a sharp object. Once the delicate skin of the ear canal opens up, whether it be from persistent scratching or an injury, bacteria and fungi are much more likely to enter the scene.

When otitis externa is present, the ear canal may look inflamed and red. Mild to severe itching may precede any other symptoms. Pain is typically worse when the earlobe is pulled or during chewing. A discharge that is yellowish and pus-like is oftentimes present, and it may or may not be accompanied by a foul smell.

Prevention of Outer Ear Infections

The best way to prevent outer ear infections is to keep the ear canal free of moisture. You can do this by using a hairdryer over your ears after bathing or swimming, though this rather ineffective to a large degree. There is a new product on the market called an ear dryer that actually looks like an ear thermometer, yet it contains a fan that sends cool air through the canal to dry up any trapped water.

It is also a good idea to avoid scratching the canal or putting any objects in the ear that can compromise the delicate skin structure. If you do get an infection of the outer ear, see your doctor immediately. Most likely, you will be prescribed antibiotic eardrops and maybe a corticosteroid to relieve the itching. Symptoms should begin to clear up within a day or two of treatment, and over-the-counter pain relievers such as Tylenol and Advil can be used for pain management.


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