External ear infection is characterized by inflammation and swelling of the ear canal, resulting in painful conditions. The notable symptoms of outer ear infection are pain, itchiness, reduced hearing, and fluid discharge from the infected ear.
Infection of the outer ear is caused by specific strains of bacteria and fungi. They require warm temperatures and humid conditions for rapid multiplication. The bacterial pathogens responsible for external ear infection are Staphylococcus and Pseudomonas, while fungal strains capable of infecting ear canal are Aspergillus and Candida. Medically referred to as otitis externa or external otitis, the main affected site is the ear canal, but not the pinna or the visible cartilaginous structure.
People of all age groups can be affected with otitis externa, but the occurrence rate is more in adults as compared to children. The leading cause of outer ear infection is swimming in public pools or polluted water. Thus, the alternative name for otitis externa is swimmer’s ear. What happens is, the contaminated water gets trapped in the ear canal, leading to infection. Also, water accumulated in the ear after taking shower is a probable reason for contracting infection.
Other factors that trigger microbial attacks to the external ear are, narrowing of the ear canal due to abnormal bone growth, humid climate, using hearing aids, and self-cleaning with cotton swabs, fingernails, or other objects. Outer ear infection in children may develop due to frequent use of Q-tips for cleaning the ear canal. These small implements cause injury to the sensitive skin of an infant’s ear, which results in inflammation. As the skin of the ear canal is inflamed, infection risk is higher, even without exposure to water.
At times, a single follicle in the passage of ear canal may get inflamed and infected, causing localized external otitis. Contrary to this, diffused otitis externa is diagnosed when a severe case of infection in the ear canal spreads to the eardrum. Whatever is the case, external ear infection symptoms worsen when accompanied with compacted earwax. Together, they block the ear canal to varying degrees, thus disturbing normal sound collection and perception.
The common symptoms of external ear infections in children and adults are as follows.
- Mild to severe outer ear pain is the most common sign of otitis externa.
- Pain intensity worsens if external ear is touched or pulled.
- Redness, swelling, inflammation, and scale formation in the outer ear canal.
- Itching in and around the inflamed ear canal is another manifested symptom of outer ear infection.
- Patients with otitis externa experience discharge of pus and unusual, foul-smelling fluid from the ear.
- Reduced sense of hearing, which is caused due to blockage of the ear canal.
- Temporary conductive hearing loss is also manifested in some patients with outer ear infection.
- Since the ear and throat are connected, itchiness and scratchy sensation of the throat are manifested as referred symptoms of outer ear infection.
As external ear infection causes constriction of the ear canal, patients tend to open the canal with a slim object, or just scratch the outer covering. These should be strictly avoided, as they further irritate the inflamed ear and exacerbate the condition. In short, correct diagnosis by a trusted doctor is of utmost importance to proceed for prompt treatment. Slight pulling of the tragus and viewing by otoscope are adopted by doctors, as a part of physical examination to confirm otitis externa.
Timely treatment is imperative to minimize the risk of chronic infection, malignant otitis, permanent hearing loss, and similar medical complications. As expected, the actual therapeutic intervention is based on the causal organism. Antibiotic and antifungal ear drops are recommended for treating bacterial and fungal infections respectively. In case of widespread infection, oral medications of appropriate dosage will be prescribed for the patient.
In addition to antimicrobial drugs, other complementary medications are directed for managing outer ear infection symptoms. Say, for example, ear drops formulated with steroids and aluminum acetate are effectual to reduce swelling and inflammation symptoms caused by infections. Also, treatment involves taking pain killers to get relief from pain, while curing the infection. Coming to the prevention of outer ear infection, wearing ear plugs during swimming and taking a shower, keeping the ear dry, and avoiding self-cleaning objects are simple ways to avoid an infection.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.