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What Is An Outer Ear Infection

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Can I Treat An Ear Infection At Home

What Is an Outer Ear Infection? | Ear Problems

You can treat some outer and middle ear infections at home with remedies and over-the-counter medication for symptoms like pain and inflammation.

Swimmers ear home treatment

Usually, prolonged and recurrent immersion in water causes outer ear infections. The primary treatment for swimmers ear is to avoid getting water in the ear canal until the ear pain is gone.

An outer ear infection may take several days to heal, but the pain usually is gone within one week. Moreover, the warmer the water, the higher the likelihood of getting swimmers ear, for example, people who swim in the summer are more likely to develop an outer ear infection than wintertime surfers.

Middle ear infection home treatment

Numerous studies have shown that viruses cause middle ear infections. Pain management for ear pain for two or three days will allow the bodys natural immune system to fight and cure the infection, much like the common cold. However, some people with middle ear infections may need to see a doctor or other health-care professional for medical treatment.

Inner ear infection and labyrinthitis home treatment

Inner ear infections and labyrinthitis usually treat inner ear infections in adults and children.

Antibiotics and outer ear infections

Antibiotics and middle ear infections

Antibiotics and inner ear infections

  • Inner ear infections are rare, and usually need to be treated by an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist.

How Do I Make Sure The Treatment Works

Let the discharge escape: try not to leave balls of cotton wool in the ear canal. If the discharge is heavy, you may need to place some cotton wool lightly in the outer part of the canal to mop it up. If you do this, replace it frequently with a fresh piece.

Use the ear drops correctly: sometimes otitis externa does not clear because ear drops are not used correctly. You have to put them in as often as prescribed to be fully effective. If the drops come out of the ear quickly, they may not work so well. When using drops:

  • Lie with the affected ear upwards.
  • Put several drops in the ear and remain lying in this position for 1-2 minutes.
  • Press the cartilage at the front of the ear canal a few times to push the drops deep inside the ear canal.

Keep your ears dry : this will help the current attack to settle down and help to prevent future attacks . It is best to avoid swimming and getting water in the ears whilst you have otitis externa. Getting more water in the ears will tend to make things worse.

Managing Your Symptoms At Home

The advice below should help to relieve your symptoms to some extent and help to prevent complications:

  • avoid getting your affected ear wet wearing a shower cap while showering and bathing can help, but you should avoid swimming until the condition has fully cleared
  • remove any discharge or debris by gently swabbing your outer ear with cotton wool, being careful not to damage it don’t stick cotton wool or a cotton bud inside your ear
  • remove anything from your affected ear that may cause an allergic reaction, such as hearing aids, ear plugs and earrings
  • use painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve ear pain these aren’t suitable for everyone, so make sure you check the information leaflet that comes with the medication first if you’re still unsure, check with your GP, practice nurse or pharmacist
  • if your condition is caused by a boil in your ear, placing a warm flannel or cloth over the affected ear can help it heal faster

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When Should I Return To My Healthcare Provider For A Follow

Your healthcare provider will let you know when you need to return for a follow-up visit. At that visit, you or your childs eardrum will be examined to be certain that the infection is going away. Your healthcare provider may also want to test you or your childs hearing.

Follow-up exams are very important, especially if the infection has caused a hole in the eardrum.

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How Does An Ear Infection Affect The Ear Canal

Outer ear infection

An outer ear infection can affect a small part of your ear canal or most of your ear canal. If you have localised otitis externa, a hair follicle at the entrance to your ear canal becomes infected, causing a boil. If an infection affects more of your ear canal and reaches your eardrum, this is called widespread or diffuse otitis externa.

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Signs Of Ear Infection Complications

An ear infection is generally a non-serious condition, with complications being rare. In some cases, however, minor complications can occur. These may include:

  • Rupture of the eardrum: Also known as a tympanic membrane rupture, this is one of the most common ear infection complications. The rupture does not hurt and may lead to relief from earache. The rupture will usually heal quickly, but antibiotics may be necessary.
  • Hearing loss: The fluid buildup that may occur as a result of infection can persist after the infection itself has resolved. This can cause short-term, but also prolonged hearing loss. Generally, the fluid will disappear naturally, though surgical treatment is available if it persists for longer than roughly three months.

If you are concerned that you may be experiencing a complication of an ear infection, try using the Ada app to find out what the problem may be.

Complications Of Swimmer’s Ear

  • Chronic otitis externa – infection persists, or else keeps recurring.
  • Narrowing of the ear canal – repeated infections can cause the ear canal to be narrowed by scar tissue. The risk of swimmer’s ear is increased if water can’t drain out properly. Narrow ear canals may also affect hearing.
  • Facial infection – the infection may escape the ear canal, down small holes in the surrounding cartilage, and lead to painful facial swelling.
  • Malignant otitis externa – the infection may spread to the bones and cartilage of the skull.

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Hearing Loss From Infection

Before we go into the ins and outs of ear infections I want to briefly speak about sudden hearing loss. Over the next few paragraphs, it will quickly become clear that hearing loss is a function of ear infections in many cases. However, it is important that you understand that any sudden hearing loss should be treated as a medical emergency. Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss is a problem of the inner ear, if you are to recover, it needs treatment within days.

Treatments Your Gp Can Provide

What is an Outer Ear Infection?

While otitis externa can clear up by itself, this can take several weeks without treatment. Your GP can usually prescribe medicated ear drops that speed up the healing process. These usually need to be taken several times a day for about a week.

There are four main types of ear drops used to treat otitis externa:

  • antibiotic ear drops this can treat an underlying bacterial infection
  • corticosteroid ear drops this can help to reduce swelling
  • antifungal ear drops this can treat an underlying fungal infection
  • acidic ear drops this can help kill bacteria

Sometimes you may be given medication that’s a combination of the above, such as antibiotic and corticosteroid ear drops.

Once treatment is complete and the inflammation has settled, your doctor may want to re-examine your ear to check for any underlying physical problems that could have contributed to the condition, such as having an abnormal or perforated ear drum.

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Treating Middle Ear Infections

You may be prescribed antibiotics. Some antibiotics may be taken orally. Others can be applied directly to the site of the infection with ear drops. Medications for pain, such as over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs may also be used to manage your symptoms.

If youre still experiencing cold or allergy symptoms, you may be advised to take a , nasal steroids, or an antihistamine.

Another helpful technique is called autoinsufflation. Its meant to help clear your eustachian tubes. You do this by squeezing your nose, closing your mouth, and very gently exhaling. This can send air through the eustachian tubes to help drain them.

What Can I Do To Prevent Swimmer’s Ear

  • Keep ears as dry as possible. Place a shower cap over your head to help prevent water or hair shampoo from getting into your ears. Place a cotton ball in the ear but do not push it in far. Use a dry towel to dry your ears after bathing or swimming. Use ear plugs if you play water sports or are frequently in water.
  • Turn your head from side to side after getting out of water. This helps water drain from your ears.
  • Don’t stick anything into your ear canal. This includes pens/pencils, fingers, bobby clips or cotton-tipped swabs.
  • Don’t swim in polluted water.
  • Do not swallow the water you swim in.
  • Use a simple, homemade solution to help prevent bacteria from growing inside the ear. Mix one drop of vinegar with one drop of isopropyl alcohol and put one drop in each ear after bathing or swimming. Be sure to check with your doctor first before making and using this homemade solution.

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Signs Of Ear Infection Faqs

Q: How do I know if I have a ruptured eardrum?A: A ruptured eardrum is one of the most common complications of an ear infection. Its symptoms also mirror those of an ear infection, meaning it may be difficult to differentiate between the two. In some cases, however, a ruptured eardrum may result in no symptoms at all. Upon examination, a doctor will be able to identify a ruptured eardrum and advise on appropriate treatment methods. Generally, a ruptured eardrum is considered non-serious and will in most instances heal naturally without the need for medication.

Q: What is the Eustachian tube?A: The Eustachian tube is a narrow canal that connects the middle ear to the throat . Its main function is to ventilate the middle ear and to ensure that the air pressure in both sides of the eardrum remains equalized. When the Eustachian tube becomes blocked as a result of an upper respiratory tract infection , this can create a vacuum in which bacteria can collect and enter the middle ear. This can cause a middle ear infection.

Q: Is earache always a sign of ear infection?A: Although earache is a common symptom of ear infection , earache can also be connected to other conditions such as cold, flu, a buildup of earwax or teething in children. Following an examination, a doctor will be able to identify the root cause of earache and outline treatment options.

Q: What are the signs of an infection around an ear piercing?A: The signs of an ear piercing infection include:

Risk Factors For Outer Ear Infection

Outer ear infection

Several factors may predispose patients to the development of acute outer ear infection 12), 13). One of the most common predisposing factors is swimming, especially in fresh water. Other factors include skin conditions such as eczema and seborrhea, trauma from cerumen removal, use of external devices such as hearing aids and cerumen buildup 14). These factors appear to work primarily through loss of the protective cerumen barrier, disruption of the epithelium , inoculation with bacteria, and increase in the pH of the ear canal 15), 16), 17).

Table 1. Predisposing Factors for Outer Ear Infection

Anatomic abnormalities

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When To See A Doctor

See a physician if you suspect you have an ear infection. Your doctor will help you address any infection you may have and allow your ear to heal.

  • Drainage or cleaning: Your doctor will use suction or a small device to drain water and clear away debris, earwax, or extra skin. Proper cleaning allows antibiotic eardrops to move freely through all infected areas of the ear. Depending on the extent of blockage or swelling, your doctor may insert cotton or gauze in the ear to promote drainage instead.
  • Ear-drops: Your doctor will prescribe ear-drops with a combination of ingredients that fight bacteria and fungi. Drops will also reduce inflammation and help restore your ear’s normal pH balance. Make sure to use your eardrops as prescribed.
  • Pain medication: To ease the outer ear pain symptoms, your doctor may suggest over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen . Do not use headphones, hearing aids, or earplugs until pain or discharge has stopped.

How Does The Hearing System Work

The outer ear captures sound waves. The sound travels down the ear canal and hits the ear drum. The ear drum vibrates which causes the ossicles to vibrate. A piston action of the ossicles creates a wave in the fluid in the inner ear. The fluid wave stimulates the hair cells in the cochlea and an electrical impulse is sent through the eighth cranial nerve to the brain.

The balance system works by sending continuous electrical impulses to the brain. Moving the head causes the fluid in the semi-circular canals to shift. This in turn changes the electrical impulses to the brain. The brain uses this information to make any adjustments the body needs for balance.

Figure 1. Outer ear

Figure 2. Outer ear anatomy

Figure 3. The Ear showing outer , middle and inner parts

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Diagnosis Of Ear Canal Infection

  • A doctor’s examination of the ear canal

  • Sometimes culture of a sample from the ear canal

The doctor bases the diagnosis of ear canal infection on the symptoms and an examination of the ear canal. To a doctor looking into the ear canal through an otoscope , the skin of the canal appears red and swollen and may be littered with pus and debris. An infection caused by a fungus is also diagnosed based on examination or culture . Sometimes fungal spores can be seen in the ear canal.

Signs Of Otitis Media

Outer Ear Infection (Swimmer’s Ear)

Otitis media, or middle ear infection, is the most common type of ear infection. It is an infection of the cavity behind the eardrum, which is connected to the rear of the throat by the Eustachian tube.

Usually, this cavity is filled with air. As a result of a cold or a similar condition, the cavity may be filled with mucus. When this mucus becomes infected, otitis media results.

Signs and symptoms of otitis media typically include:

  • Pain in the ear
  • Impaired hearing
  • High temperature
  • Discharge from the ear

Pain in the ear can occur as a result of an ear infection, but it can also indicate a variety of other conditions. If a person experiences severe ear pain or if the pain lasts for longer than a few days, medical attention should be sought.

In many cases, the signs and symptoms will clear up naturally within a couple of days without treatment.

If you are concerned that you may have a middle ear infection, try using the Ada app to find out what the problem may be.

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Anatomy Of An Ear Infection

The ear is divided into the outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear. Infection can occur in any of these areas, but bacterial infections of the inner ear are extremely rare.

Bacteria, viruses, and fungi can cause infections in the ear. Infections can be brought on by an illness, such as a cold or allergies.

Ear infections generally occur when bacteria, viruses, or fungi gain entry into one of the three areas of the ear and cause infection.

When Do You Need To Visit A Doctor

In the case of mild outer ear infection, some antiseptic cream or medicated drops may do the job. In the case of a mild middle ear infection, the eustachian tube may open and relieve the pressure and drain fluid. If the infection doesn’t clear up on its own after a week, or if it keeps returning. If you begin running a temperature combined with ear pain, you really ought to go and see your Doctor.

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Cleaning Your Ear Canal

If earwax or loose material is blocking your ear canal, it can stop ear drops from working properly.

If you think you have too much earwax, you shouldnt try to remove it yourself. Using cotton buds or other objects to try to clean earwax out of your ears can push it further inside and block your ear. You might also damage the skin inside your ear canal, which can lead to an ear infection.

Instead, your GP may suggest one of the following methods to clean your ear canal before you use ear drops. Sometimes they may need to refer you to a specialist in ear, nose and throat conditions for these procedures.

  • Syringing and irrigation. This gently washes out any earwax and debris blocking your ear canal.
  • Dry swabbing. This means using dry cotton swabs to gently remove any loose material from your ear canal.
  • Microsuction. This involves using a device to gently suction out wax and any other material from your ear. Your doctor or another trained specialist will do this procedure using a microscope or special camera to view your ear.

If your ear canal is very swollen, your doctor may suggest inserting an ear wick into your ear. This can only be done by a specialist. An ear wick is a small sponge pad. Once its in your ear, it can be soaked with an antibiotic solution. This allows drops to fall deep into your ear. The wick is usually left in place for at least a couple of days. Generally, your doctor or nurse will remove it but it may fall out on its own.

Treatment Of Ear Canal Infection

Outer ear infection
  • Removal of infected debris from the ear canal and dry ear precautions

  • Ear drops containing white vinegar and corticosteroids

  • Sometimes ear drops containing antibiotics

  • Rarely antibiotics taken by mouth

To treat ear canal infection due to any cause, a doctor first removes the infected debris from the canal with suction or dry cotton wipes. After the ear canal is cleared, hearing often returns to normal.

Usually, a person with mild ear canal infection is given ear drops containing white vinegar and drops containing a corticosteroid such as hydrocortisone or dexamethasone to use several times a day for up to a week. White vinegar is helpful because bacteria do not grow as well once the normal acidity of the ear canal is restored.

With moderate or severe infection, antibiotic ear drops also are prescribed. If the ear canal is very swollen, a doctor inserts a small wick into the ear canal to allow the antibiotic/corticosteroid ear drops to penetrate. The wick is left in place for 24 to 72 hours, after which time the swelling may have gone down enough to allow the drops to go directly into the ear canal.

People who have severe acute external otitis may need to take antibiotics by mouth, such as cephalexin or ciprofloxacin.

Pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen may help reduce pain for the first 24 to 48 hours, until the inflammation begins to subside.

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