External otitis: what it is, symptoms, causes and treatment


Otitis Externa is inflammation of the outermost part of the ear that can happen when wearing headphones for a long time, due to allergies or after going to the beach or swimming pool, as it results in greater heat and humidity in the ear, favoring the development of bacteria and fungi.

Thus, as a result of inflammation, it is possible to notice some symptoms such as pain in the ear, itching, peeling skin in the ear canal and hearing loss, in some cases.

In the presence of signs and symptoms possibly indicative of external otitis, it is important that the doctor is consulted so that the most appropriate treatment can be started, which may involve the use of analgesic, anti-inflammatory, corticosteroid and/or antibiotic drugs in cases where signs of infection are identified.

External otitis symptoms

The main symptoms indicative of external otitis are:

  • Earache, which can arise when pulling the ear lightly;
  • Itchy ear;
  • Decreased hearing;
  • Ear canal skin peeling;
  • Redness or swelling of the ear;
  • There may be a whitish discharge.

In the case of children, it is possible to be suspicious of otitis when the child puts his hand to the ear several times, cries a lot and becomes more irritated, for example, it is important that the pediatrician is consulted so that an evaluation of the ear is made and it can be started the most suitable treatment.

How is the diagnosis made

The diagnosis of external otitis is made by the otorhinolaryngologist or pediatrician, in the case of children, based on the evaluation of the ear, which is done using an otoscope, which is a medical device that allows you to assess the ear in detail. In addition, an assessment is made of the signs and symptoms presented by the person, their duration and intensity.

From the evaluation of symptoms and with the otoscope, the doctor is able to identify signs of inflammation and/or infection, and may indicate the most appropriate treatment. If symptoms persist for a few weeks even after treatment has been carried out, the doctor may suggest that a small sample of tissue be taken from the ear to be analyzed in the laboratory, as it may be related to an infection. Thus, it is possible to identify the infectious agent related to this inflammation and initiate more targeted treatment.

Main causes

External otitis can happen as a result of some situations, the main ones being:

  • Heat and humidity, common after going to the beach or swimming pool, which facilitates the proliferation of bacteria;
  • Use of cotton swabs;
  • Presence of small objects in the ear, which happens more often in young children;
  • Use of hearing aids;
  • Using headphones;
  • Topical allergy, which can be due to a medication in the form of an ointment or cream applied to the ear or shampoo, for example;

Malignant or necrotizing external otitis, on the other hand, is a more aggressive and severe form of the infection, more common in people with compromised immunity or uncontrolled diabetics, which starts on the outside of the ear and evolves over weeks to months, causing intense involvement of the ear and strong symptoms. In these cases, treatment with more potent antibiotics, for a prolonged period of 4 to 6 weeks, may be indicated.

How is the treatment done

Treatment for external otitis should be done under the guidance of an otolaryngologist, pediatrician or general practitioner, according to the symptoms presented and the cause of the inflammation. In general, the physician recommends the use of topical remedies to clean the ear, such as serum and alcoholic solutions.

In addition, depending on the cause of external otitis, the use of steroids and topical antibiotics, such as Ciprofloxacin, for example, may be indicated. If eardrum perforation is verified, the use of 1.2% aluminum acetate 3 drops 3 times a day may also be indicated, or according to medical advice.

The doctor may also recommend the use of drugs that help relieve pain and reduce inflammation, especially in the case of babies and children.

The treatment time for otitis externa can vary according to the cause. In the case of the use of antibiotics, the treatment lasts from 8 to 10 days, but when only analgesics and anti-inflammatory drugs are used, the treatment lasts from 5-7 days, with an improvement in symptoms on the second day of treatment.

home treatment

To complement the treatment indicated by the doctor, it is also important to adopt some homemade measures to recover faster:

  • Avoid cleaning the ear with your fingers, cotton swabs or pen caps, for example, preferring to clean only with the tip of a towel after showering;
  • If you go to the pool frequently, always use a cotton ball moistened with a little Vaseline in your ear;
  • When washing your hair, prefer to tilt your head forward and then dry your ear.
  • Drink guaco tea with pennyroyal, because it helps to eliminate phlegm, being useful to cure the flu or cold faster. As secretions aggravate ear infection, this can be a good strategy for teenagers or adults.

If there is desquamation or pus in the ear, the area can be cleaned with the tip of a clean towel soaked in warm water. Ear washing should not be done at home, as the eardrum may be perforated to prevent the infection from getting worse.

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