External ear infections (otitis externa) are caused by fungal, viral or bacterial infections. This type of infection is often present in people practicing sports like swimming as it is commonly associated with moisture in the external auditory canal. Left untreated, otitis externa can be life-threatening. Under normal conditions, ear wax (cerumen) repels water on the surface of the external ear canal. Wax helps maintaining a suitable pH to inhibit bacterial growth in the ear. If this is altered, infection may occur. A fungal infection, viral or bacterial can be the cause of otitis externa. Bacterial infectins are the most common cause.
Otitis Externa Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of otitis externa include ear pain, yellowish green liquid discharge from the ear cannal, foul-smelling and hearing loss. External ear infection (otitis externa) causes irritation and inflammation of the external ear canal. It can occur at any age but most commonly affects young adults.
Otitis Externa Risk Factors
Factors that stimulate bacterial growth
- Excessive moisture in the external ear canal. Repeated exposure to water can lead to loss of ear wax. Unprotected skin retains moisture in the external ear canal and causes irritation. Normal pH balance is also disturbed, allowing the growth of the bacteria. Using hearing aids can also promote the accumulation of moisture in the external ear canal;
- Damage or skin irritation of the external auditory canal. Scratching the ear canal or removing wax with makeshift items such as barrettes or clips, can damage skin, thus providing the bacteria a gateway. Efforts to clean the ear cannal with wool sticks, is not recommended, contrary to expectations, due to excess wax and dirt that is forced deeper into the ear canal.
- Chronic skin diseases or allergies. Skin diseases such as eczema or seborrhea may provide bacteria an entry point. Hair dye allergies or sprays can irritate skin and cause infections. Sometimes the infection can be very severe and aggressive, this happens more often in people with diabetes, especially in the elderly. Those with weakened immune systems are also at risk to develop this type of infection. The infection usually starts as an external otitis but at some point, the bacteria can spread from the ear canal skin to the surrounding tissues, including cartilage and bone. Nerve damage can occur that can even lead to facial paralysis.
Otitis Externa Diagnosis
If you notice pain in the ear canal or fluid leaking (yellowish or yellow-green), contact your doctor. If the fluid or inflammation blacks the canal you can lose your hearing. Your doctor may use an instrument called an otoscope to examine the external auditory canal. If pus is present, a sample for laboratory analysis is taken. Most external ear infections are troublesome, but if treated properly, are not a threat to general health. Severe external otitis may spread to surrounding tissues and may affect the underlying bone and cartilage. Left untreated, this may be life threatening.
Oitits Txterna Treatment
If you suspect that you have otitis externa, you can take some steps before consulting a doctor. Applying a not very warm cushion on the ear could help. After the diagnosis, your doctor will clean the ear canal with a suction device or a cotton-tipped probe. This maneuver helps alleviate pain. Often, doctors prescribe ear drops containing corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and relieve symptoms, and an antibiotic to control infection. If you have pain, your doctor may prescribe a painkiller. Make sure water does not enter the ear during treatment, usually 7-10 days. If the infection does not improve after 3-4 days, your doctor may prescribe an oral antibiotic.
Gently dry your ears with a hair dryer or a towel after bathing or swimming because moisture can expose the external ear canal to infection. Avoid excessive cleaning of the ear canal. Remove only what is found outside the opening. Cover with cotton the hearing cannal or something similar when applying paint or hair spray.