What is Otitis Externa
Inflammation of the skin lining of the ear canal. This leads to swelling of the ear canal. It causes pain, itching, some leakage from the ear, tenderness on touching or moving the ear, visible swelling of the opening of the ear canal and sometimes some hearing loss.
Why does it happen?
Often referred to as swimmer's ear, it is associated with swimming. It is common with 1 in 10 people having this at some time. It is, however, not common at all in children under 10 years of age. It is usually bacterial in origin, but can be caused by fungal infection.
How is it treated?
Usually the infection will settle with ear drops prescribed by your GP. If severe you may need to attend hospital to have the ear cleaned and a wick inserted into the ear to allow treatment. If the infection spreads out of your ear canal then you may need antibiotics by mouth in addition to the drops. It can be a very painful condition.
Taking a swab to identify the bug is rarely helpful.
Am I at risk from getting this?
Some people are particularly prone to this infection. If it happens only in one ear and is recurrent then it is adviced that the ear is examined by a specialist to ensure there is no particular reason for the one ear to be affected.
Can I prevent it from happening?
Keep the ear dry- cotton wool with vaseline or ear plugs for swimming/showering
If prone to wax build up have this removed on a regular basis
Avoid putting anything in the ear
Avoid blocking the ear canal if possible with in the ear headphones, and if using hearing aids give the ear a rest from time to time
Dry the ear with a hair dryer at a low setting if water gets in
The use of acidifying ear spray (earCalm) or drying drops (70% isopropyl alcohol) after swimming or showering can reduce the chance of infection. Divers will often use a home made remedy of 1 part white vinegar to 2 parts isopropyl alcohol - acts as a drying and acidifying agent (natural ear canal pH is acidic)