Otitis externa is an inflammation of the ear canal. The inflammation is usually caused by infection, although it can sometimes be due to allergy or irritation.
Otitis externa usually clears within a week or so. When otitis externa is short-lasting, it is described as 'acute otitis externa'. However, sometimes it persists for three months or more and is then described as 'chronic otitis externa'.
Otitis externa is an infection of the skin of the ear canal and is very common. The ear canal is a narrow, warm, blind-ended tunnel, which makes it a good protected environment for germs to grow in if they are given a chance. Most infections are caused by a germ (bacterium). Occasionally, they can be due to a fungal or yeast infection.
Some things can make you more prone to otitis externa - for example:
Substances entering the ear
If there is regularly get water in an ear then this may provide moisture for germs to grow. It may also cause itching and scratch or poke the ear. This can damage the skin in the ear canal and cause inflammation. Inflamed skin can quickly become infected. A vicious circle may then develop. The inflammation and infection cause more itch.
Otitis externa is much more common in regular swimmers, due to water getting into the ear canal. In fact, otitis externa is sometimes called swimmer's ear. It is more likely if they are swimming in water which isn't clean, such as ponds.
Otitis externa is more likely to develop in hot, humid and 'sweaty' weather. It is more common in hot countries.
Eczema or psoriasis may affect the ear canal and make the skin inflamed and flaky. If this happens then otitis externa is more likely.
This can lead to trapping of water and debris in the ear canal. Bugs (bacteria) can thrive in these conditions and infection then occurs easily.
Ear syringing to clear earwax
This may irritate the delicate lining of the ear canal and cause inflammation. Earwax is protective of the ear canal, and if too little is left it is easier for infection to take hold.
Middle ear infections
Sometimes middle ear infections (otitis media) can produce persisting discharge which can become stuck in the ear canal and then cause otitis externa.
Common symptoms include itch, ear discharge, temporary dulled hearing and pain. ear may feel blocked or full.
Both ears can be affected; however, more often otitis externa affects one ear only. Sometimes the glands in neck or around ear can become enlarged and sore.
Acute otitis externa - this term means they have had the condition for less than three months. Usually, in fact,
Recurrent otitis externa - this term means the condition keeps coming back. Y
Chronic otitis externa - this term means the condition has lasted (persisted) for more than three months. Sometimes it can last for years. This is often because, even though you have had treatment, the underlying reasons for it are still there.