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by Tahl Colen, M.D.
Otitis externa is inflammation of the external ear canal. The most common type is acute otitis externa, also known as swimmer’s ear. It requires two events- presence of bacteria and an injury to the skin of the ear canal. Moisture also creates an environment in the ear that contributes to infection. Symptoms include pain, decreased hearing, and ear drainage. Although a bacterial infection is most common, fungal infections occur as well.
Treatment involves cleaning of infected debris from the ear canal by an ENT, antibiotic ear drops and dry ear precautions. One can help prevent these types of infections by avoiding using q-tips and other instruments in side the ear. For those who suffer recurrent infections, using earplugs while swimming and using alcohol-based drops after swimming can be helpful.
Otitis externa can also be chronic. A common cause is eczema or seborrheic dermatitis of the ear canals. Sufferers from this condition have itchy, irritated ears and often feel compelled to scratch their ear canals with q-tips or other implements. This itch-scratch cycle tends to exacerbate the problem and can result in acute infection. Treatment involves strict dry ear precautions, avoiding scratching the ear, and use of steroid and/or antibiotic drops or cream.