Ear pain caused by an external ear infection, or drainage (often called swimmer’s ear) are very common infections of the ear. It can be brought on by any of a number of factors such as swimming, exposure to water, or mild trauma to the ear canal. Any of these elements can lead to an infection forming in the ear canal. Symptoms of an ear infection are swelling, tenderness of the ear, and or discharge from the ear canal. In most cases, the middle ear and ear drum are not abnormally affected by the external ear infection.
Most commonly, a doctor will diagnose the disorder through a physical examination. Ear drops with antibiotics and steroids are the most frequently used medication for treating these infections. In cases where the ear is severely swollen, the attending physician may prescribe the use of an ear wick. An ear wick is a thick sponge that is placed into the ear canal to pull the medication into the ear that may otherwise be swollen too tightly, preventing easy flow of the medication. The ear wick is then removed when the swelling has gone down, or it may fall out on its own.
During the treatment of an external ear infection, it is highly important to keep the ear clean. Pus, dead skin and wax can build up in the ear and cause further problems. By clearing away this blocking material, the medication is brought into contact with the skin or the ear canal and is better able to clear the infection. If the material is not cleared away, the infection will last longer and complications may arise.
Ear pain caused by external ear infections can be severe. Most frequently, patients suffering from this type of pain will take Tylenol and this is often enough to deal with the pain. However, if this proves to be insufficient, a NSAID (aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen) may be prescribed as it also has the benefit of being an anti-inflammatory. Elevating the head will also help to mitigate swelling and pressure in the ear canal. If pain still persists, then stronger medications may be prescribed in order to alleviate these symptoms. Doctors in New York and New Jersey have found this to be necessary in the cold and wet climates where they often treat their patients.
It is imperative that the patient keeps the ear canal dry. Any exposure to liquids beyond the medication can prolong the infection. Earplugs or a cotton swab covered in Vaseline can help to keep fluids out of the ear. The patient should also maintain a diet of soft foods as this will prevent pain caused by excessive chewing, which may aggravate the ear.
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