Outer Ear Infection

An outer ear infection starts from the ear canal/duct which joins the outer ear cavity to its inner part including the ear drum. It is also known as “swimmer`s ear” and acknowledged by medical specialists as otitis externa. This infection is caused by moisture exposure and is a common occurrence in children as well as young adults who frequently swim.Constant exposure of the ear to water which has a high percentage of bacteria present in it through bathing, swimming or frequent showering could lead to the infection of the outer ear. This occurs as a result of water being trapped inside the ear canal thereby encouraging bacterial growth. Infections can also occur if the delicate layer of skin lining the outer ear ruptures due to an immense amount of scratching through the use of headphones or cotton swabs which are entry points for bacteria.

Who’s at risk?

Showering or frequently ear cleaning can open up ears to infections. People who have narrow ear canals where water is likely to get trapped and the children (they have ear canals which are narrower than those of the adults) are those who are prone to developing ear infections. Use of headphones or hearing aids, skin allergies and delicate skin that develop irritation due to certain hair products factor in ear infections.


Outer ear infection symptoms start up mild but tend to worsen if left untreated. Symptoms of a mild outer ear infection:

  • Itching of the ear canal
  • Slight redness inside the ear
  • Mild discomfort which worsens from pulling the outer ear known as pinna/auricle or pushing on the little bumps also known as tragus.
  • Presence and drainage of a clear odorless liquid.

Symptoms of a moderate outer ear infection:

  • Increasingly intense itching
  • Increase in pain
  • Expansion of the red area in the ear
  • Excessive fluid drainage
  • Pus discharge from ear
  • Decreased or muffled hearing
  • Feeling of fullness in the ear and partial blockage of the ear canal from swelling

Symptoms of an advanced outer ear infection:

  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes present in the neck
  • Severe redness or swelling of the outer ear
  • Complete blockage of the ear canal
  • Severe pain radiating from the face, neck or side of the head



Aural toileting/Ear Hygiene Ritual

This treatment method refers to the removal of any fluid, ear wax or foreign material that may be present in the ear canal and middle ear; this is mostly carried out in combination with a microscope examination. Aural toileting is performed through suctioning, this process involves the use of a suction machine in cleaning of the ear canal, and some patients may prefer wiping or curetting to this method. Suctioning may be a better option though the method of wiping can exacerbate the feeling of discomfort and tenderness within the infected ear canal due to less tenderness. The suctioning method is a loud method and can make people experience vertigo during the process especially for those who have had ear surgery in the past especially a mastoidectomy. The aural toileting which follows the microscope examination is a procedure which lasts from 5 to 10 minutes. During the procedure the adults and children are told to lie still and breathe normally, people who undergo this procedure are able to go about their daily business after the procedure.

Medication for Outer Ear Inefction

Forms of medication in the treatment of outer ear infection include:

  • Antibiotic ear drops – these treat underlying bacterial infection
  • Corticosteroid ear drops – these help to alleviate swelling
  • Antifungal ear drops – these treat underlying bacterial infection
  • Acidic ear drops – these help in killing infection causing bacteria

Ways in making treatment more effective

Steps to adhere to in keeping the ears dry and preventing further ear irritation:

  • Avoid flying
  • Avoid swimming or scuba diving
  • Cease from wearing headphones, hearing aids or ear plugs before the discharge of fluid or the pain has stopped.
  • Avoid getting water in the ear canal while showering or bathing, this can be achieved by coating the ear canal with Vaseline or inserting cotton ball in the ear.


Eardrum (tympanic membrane) Visualization: This procedure is carried out to ascertain that the eardrum is not ripped or injured. If the eardrum is blocked from view, the doctor clears out the ear canal with a small suction device or an instrument called the ear curette which has a tiny scoop at the end. Ear Canal Examination: In diagnosing a condition, the doctor examines the ear with a lighted instrument (otoscope). The ear canal may look to be swollen, red and scaly, with flakes of skin and presence of other debris. Audiogram: A hearing test can also be carried out in soundproofed room to block out external noise. Sounds are transmitted by an audiologist who would be listened to by the patient and signaling by pushing a button to signal hearing a sound. The results gotten from this exam are plotted on an audiogram.