Otitis externa is an infection, inflammation, or irritation of the ear canal, the tube leading from the outer ear to the eardrum. Because it is often found in swimmers, particularly in warm, humid climates, it is often referred to as swimmer’s ear. This condition can easily be treated but can become serious, even life-threatening in some people, if left untreated. This can be very serious particularly in diabetics, where the infection can spread to the middle and inner ears, and cause an infection in the bone ( osteomyelitis), described as malignant otitis externa. Contact your doctor if you think you may have otitis externa.
The Ear Canal
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Otitis externa can develop under the following circumstances:
- Following frequent swimming or bathing when the ears are repeatedly filled with water and not drained completely afterward
- After removal of protective ear wax, especially if the cleaning is painful and causes bleeding
- Excessive use of cotton swabs to clean ears
- Injury to the skin in the ear canal
- As a consequence of skin conditions that also can occur in the ear canal, such as:
Last reviewedSeptember 2012by Kari Kassir, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.