Symptoms and causes

What is it?

An external ear infection is an infection of the skin of the ear canal, which sometimes spreads to the outer ear. It is usually caused by bacteria, but is can also be caused by a fungal infection.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of an external ear infection are:

  • hearing loss
  • severe ear pain
  • ear drainage
  • feeling of having the ear blocked

Diagnosis and treatment

Diagnosis

The diagnosis is made using a micro-otoscopic exam. A culture can be taken to identify the specific pathogen. Medical imaging such as a CT or MRI scan is only performed in rare cases.

Treatment

In order to control the infection, you cannot get your ear wet until it is completely healed. Local ear drops are used to thoroughly cleanse the area of the infectious issue is important. If the swelling of the ear canal is severe, your physician can place a medicated tamponade. Serious infections can spread to the external ear, and they are best treated with antibiotics.

Most external ear infections resolve quickly, but in some cases, they are recuurent (e.g. they come back). This may be related to an underlying skin problem, such as chronic eczema.

Treatment centres and specialisations

Ear, nose, and throat diseases

Latest publication date: 28/06/2021
Supervising author: Dr Vermeiren Judith