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Otitis externa is an outer ear infection. It occurs when the outer ear canal, which connects the outer ear to the eardrum, becomes inflamed. As a result of this condition you may experience swelling and pain in the outer ear. Otitis externa is also called external otitis, externa ear infection, and swimmer’s ear.
The main cause of otitis externa is a bacterial infection, though a fungal infection, eczema or skin allergies can also cause otitis externa. Exposure to water while swimming can lead to an infection in the ear, which is why the condition is commonly referred to as ‘swimmer’s ear’.
Acute otitis externa is usually caused by a bacterial infection, but it can also be due to a fungal or viral infection. Acute otitis externa usually lasts no more than three weeks. It is most common in children aged 7-12 years.
Chronic otitis externa is when otitis externa is present for many months. Chronic otitis externa is usually caused by a fungal infection, an allergy, or damage to the thin layer of skin inside the ear.
Malignant otitis externa is a severe infection in the ear canal, which runs from the outer to the middle ear. It mainly affects the elderly, people with diabetes, and people with an impaired immune system. If left untreated, malignant otitis externa can be life-threatening.
With treatment, otitis externa usually clears up within seven to 10 days. During this time, the ear should be kept as dry as possible, and the patient should abstain from water sports.
Otitis externa can be painful, and the amount of pain you experience will depend on the severity of the infection. As the outer ear is inflamed, you can expect a degree of pain or discomfort. Pain in the face and neck usually indicates that the infection has spread.
If you are suffering from otitis externa, you may experience temporary hearing loss. Chronic otitis externa can lead to permanent hearing loss.
A doctor will usually prescribe ear drops to treat the infection, but your doctor will aim to establish the nature of the infection and whether it is viral or bacterial.
Otitis externa should clear up without treatment, but the right medication - usually antibiotic ear drops if the cause is a bacterial infection - will speed up the healing process.
Acute outer ear infections usually clear up within seven days if effective treatment is used. Chronic outer ear infections can last for several months or more.
Otitis externa is especially common in children, especially those who swim regularly. Children have smaller ear canals than adults, making it harder for fluid to drain from the ear. Fluid in the ear is a breeding ground for bacteria, which increases the risk of infection.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.