• Inflammation, irritation, or infection of the outer ear and ear canal
  • Also referred to as “Otitis externa”
  • May be acute or chronic


  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Heat
  • Pain or discomfort in the ear
  • Pus discharge
  • Itching
  • Excessive fluid drainage
  • Muffled or diminished hearing


  • Middle ear infection
  • Respiratory infection such as a cold
  • Swimming in unclean water
  • Scratching the ear or inside the ear
  • Getting something stuck in the ear
  • Allergic reaction to something placed in the ear
  • Chronic skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis

Risk Factors

  • Swimming
  • Swimming in water with elevated bacteria levels
  • A narrow ear canal
  • Aggressive cleaning of the ear canal with cotton swabs
  • Use of certain devices, such as headphones or a hearing aid
  • Skin allergies or irritation from jewelry, hair spray or hair dyes

Diagnostic Tests

  • Examination of the ear canal
  • Visualization of the eardrum (tympanic membrane)
  • If the eardrum is damaged or torn
  • If the infection doesn’t respond to treatment


  • Cleaning the outer ear canal is necessary
  • Acidic solutions
  • Corticosteroids to reduce itching and inflammation
  • Antibiotic eardrops
  • Antifungal medications
  • Pain medications


  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others)
  • Naproxen sodium (Aleve, others)
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others)


  • Keep the ears dry
  • Use homemade preventive eardrops before and after swimming
  • Swim wisely
  • Avoid putting foreign objects in the ear
  • Protect the ears from irritants
  • Use caution after an ear infection or surgery