Otitis Externa (Outer Ear Infection)

Read Time: 4 Minutes

Outer ear infection is painful! This article looks at:

  • Factors That Lead To Otitis Externa
  • How Is It Treated
  • Prevention Is Better Than Cure

Also known as, outer-ear infection, swimmer’s ear, and tropical ear is a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection of the canal between the eardrum and the outer ear.

Symptoms include an itchy or burning sensation, swelling of the ear canal, pain that is exacerbated by moving the head or jaw, smelly fluid in the ear canal, blocked feeling, reduced hearing, and tinnitus.


  • Water exposure: seasonal humidity, swimming, water sports
  • Wax: Impaction (traps water in the ear), removal (exposes canal to water and mechanical trauma). Wax is an important natural way to protect the ear canal from infections.
  • Skin conditions: Eczema, psoriasis
  • Trauma: Foreign bodies, cotton buds, paper clips, safety pins
  • Anatomical: narrow, long hairy ear canals, exostoses (bony bumps in the canal)
  • Ear disease: Eardrum perforation, discharge, cholesteatoma
  • Systemic disease: Diabetes (changes the pH of the ear canal making it more susceptible to infections), immunocompromised
  • Radiotherapy to the head and neck
  • Assistive hearing devices: hearing aids, earplugs, diving suits, mobile phone earpieces is a risk factor if not handled with clean hands and cleaned regularly. Also traps moisture in the ear canal.


You need to see your doctor for treatment.

The doctor could treat it with ear drops, oral antibiotics, painkillers, ear wick etc. Follow the doctor’s instructions to the letter and finish the medications as prescribed.


  • Keep your ears dry: swim with earplugs or shower with a cap.
  • If you know your eardrums are intact, you can use drops (you can buy over the counter at the pharmacy), which repel water from the ear, and repairs the pH after swimming or showering.
  • Do not clean your ears excessively. Try not to use cotton buds or paper clips, finger nails etc.
  • Do not wear your hearing aids; mobile phone ear buds etc., while you have an infection.
  • Clean the hearing aid tips with surgical alcohol swabs when you had an infection or replace the domes and filters or visit your clinician to send it for a thorough clean and service.
  • Handle the hearing aids with clean hands – wash your hands before and after inserting and removing your hearing aids. Keep a bottle of hand sanitiser next to the hearing aid storage container.
  • Clean the hearing aids regularly and store them in an electric dryer with a UV light to reduce the build-up of bacteria.
  • Insert and remove the hearing aids with caution as not irritate the skin of the ear canal.
  • Use the correct size dome or moulds for your ear canals.
  • See your hearing aid clinician regularly to check your ear canal condition and the hearing aid condition and fit in the ear canal.

To see a short explanatory video on Otitis Externa click here




Further Reading

Value Hearing cares about you and your on-going hearing health. We have articles on other causes of hearing loss here.