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Ear Canal Infection

Written by Dr.Mary

What is an Ear Canal Infection?

Commonly called as swimmer’s ear, ear canal infection or external otitis is an inflammatory process affecting the skin of the outer ear canal, which moves along the eardrum to the outside. This can be acute or chronic. The causative agent is commonly the bacteria, such as streptococcus, staphylococcus and pseudomonas. Oftentimes, the cause is due to water that stays in the ear after showering or swimming, or insertion of foreign implements, thus, creating a suitable and inviting culture media for bacterial growth and proliferation.


Ear Canal Infection Symptoms

In the early course of the disease process, the symptoms are typically mild but may worsen if the infection spreads or if it is left untreated. The condition is classified into mild, moderate and advanced.

In individuals with mild infection, they may experience signs and symptoms including ear canal itching with minor redness, mild discomfort which worsens when the auricle is pulled and the appearance of a clear, odorless drainage.

If the infection is in its moderate progression, the patient may predominantly complain of having a more intense itching with increasing ear pain and more extensive ear redness, extreme fluid drainage, foul smelling yellowish pus and diminished and muffled hearing. There is a temporary conductive hearing loss that will be experienced by a patient who displays enough swelling and ear pus to obstruct the opening of the ear.

When the condition becomes advanced, there is severe pain radiating to the face, neck and sides of the face. Other symptoms include complete obstruction of the ear canal, redness and swelling, hyperthermia and swelling in the lymph nodes in the neck making it painful to open the jaw.

Ear Canal Infection Causes

Possible causative bacteria are Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus while the Candida albicans and Aspergillus are the most common fungi to blame for this medical condition.

Normally, the outer ear canal has a natural defense which helps prevent infection from occurring. This natural defense involves the glands which secrete a waxy substance called cerumen. This slightly acidic substance creates a slim, water-repellant coating on the skin and discourages bacterial growth. Additionally, this material accumulates dirt, dead cells and other debris and helps move these elements out of the ear. Another useful factor is the downward slope of the ear canal which helps water and other materials to drain out of the canal.

If a patient develops ear canal infection, then, the natural defenses in the ear have been overwhelmed. Factors which can cause weakening of the ears’ protective mechanism and encourage growth of bacteria include excess ear moisture, abrasions in the ear canal and sensitivity reactions from various sources. When sweating becomes heavy, or when humid weather is prolonged or when water remains in the ear after swimming, a favorable setting for bacterial growth is created.

Scratches and abrasions in the ear can be due to cleaning the ear with cotton swab or hair pin, scratching with finger and using headphones and hearing aids. These breaks permit bacteria to grow and multiply. Jewelries and hair products can produce allergic reactions which encourage infection.

If otitis externa is in chronic form, the cause might not only because of bacteria but is more likely to be attributed by chronic dermatitis of the ear canal. Individuals with persistent dermatological conditions, including eczema and psoriasis are more predisposed to developing infections involving the outer auditory canal.

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As symptoms of swimmer’s ear appear, affected people may attempt to clean the ear canal. But self-cleaning efforts must be avoided as these usually cause additional injury to the traumatized skin area, making the condition worse.

Ear Canal Infection Treatment

It is important to learn the approaches for preventing a person from developing acute external otitis. It is critical to maintain dryness in the ears. If an individual is likely to develop the disease, earplugs and bathing caps can be given to them before swimming or taking a bath. Ears can be dried using towel corners or by placing a blow dryer several centimeters away from the ear set at its lowest setting. Soap and shampoo residues must be cleared immediately as these cause irritation and itching. To remove all the dirt in the ear canal, a gentle, warm bath must be advised.

The treatment is aimed at ending the disease process and permitting the ear canal to undergo healing process.

To begin with, the outer ear canal is cleaned to assist the eardrops to run along the infected areas. The physician may then remove the discharge, ear wax and other materials and debris periodically and frequently with suction apparatus or ear curette. This will also decrease bacterial count.

Physicians may also order medications via eardrops. The medications may include an acidic solution which re-establishes the normal environment of the ear canal, corticosteroids which lessen inflammation, antibiotic to treat the infection and antifungal drugs if the condition is fungal in origin.

Generally, acute ear canal infection resolves in just a few days after a therapeutic combination of topical wash and antibiotics, however, absolute convalescence of hearing and gland function may take place a little longer. Before it has healed fully, the patient is still more susceptible to develop recurrent infection.

Ear Canal Infection Home Remedies

Swimmer’s ear is typically not serious and often resolves in just a few days. If infection is mild, alternative home treatments can be tried.

Whatever the reason for this infection, avoid factors such as moisture and irritation as these extend the course of the disease. Prevent getting water in the ear until the infection fades away. If necessary, place an earplug or cotton wool soaked in Vaseline on the outside when swimming or while taking a shower.

Then, if there are foreign items trapped inside the ear, it must be immediately removed. If small insects are locked inside, this can be often taken away with warm water. For larger insects, the ear is flushed with mineral oil to suffocate the organism and go to see a doctor for removal. Removing an object trapped in the ear must not be attempted by anyone, as this can be hard. Seek a physician. When the object is settled too profoundly, a general anesthesia may be inducted.

Ear Canal Infection Pictures

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