Outer Ear Infections

The medical name for an ear infection is otitis. Otitis externa, commonly called an outer ear infection, is a painful infection in the ear canal. Another name for this is “swimmer’s ear,” as this infection can be associated with exposure to water. This can make the skin more susceptible to infection by bacteria and fungi.


While significant pain is the main symptom of otitis externa, the following conditions can also occur:

  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Swelling of the skin in the ear canal
  • Drainage
  • Pain to the touch
  • Pain with chewing


Several factors can contribute to the development of external otitis. They include:

  • Recurrent exposure to moisture
  • Overaggressive cleaning attempts
  • Eczema of the ear canal
  • Skin allergies
  • The use of earplugs or hearing aids


Treatment includes gentle cleaning of the ear canal followed by the application of antibiotic and anti-inflammatory ear drops. Topical antifungal agents such as clortrimazole are used for fungal infections. Occasionally placement of a temporary wick into the ear canal to facilitate the application of the drops is necessary.

For cases where the surrounding skin and soft tissues are infected as well, oral antibiotics are used. Topical preventative agents to remove water from the ear canal following swimming or showering are readily available.

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