Otitis Externa

Presented by: Ashley Longo & Monica Hand

What is it?

Otitis media, also known as Swimmer's Ear, refers to an infection/inflammation of the ear canal (outer ear). The infection usually develops in children and adolescents whose ears are exposed to persistant, excessive moisture.

What happens?

Frequent exposure of the ear canal to moisture may cause significant loss of ear wax which protects the skin of the ear canal. Without this protection, the ear canal retains mositure and becomes irritated. Without the wax, the ear canal becomes non acidic which allows the growth of microorganisms. The now warm, moist, dark environment of the ear canal becomes ideal for infection development.


Common causes of Otitis Externa include: Long periods of swimming (especially in polluted lakes, river, and ponds), routine showering, cleaning the ear canal with cotton swabs, and the use of hearing aids; just to name a few.


The first symptom is often itching of the ear canal follwed by a watery discharge from the ear. Eventually it will be extremely painful. If the ear becomes swollen hearing may become muffled. The ear may appear swollen and red and may contain a foul smelling greenish-yellow pus discharge. In severe cases, fever may be present. A sign of ear infection in children is tugging, pulling, or rubbing their ears.


Otitis Externa often clears up on its own within a few days. Patients can use an over-the-counter antiseptic wash to aid in healing. You can use a heating pad or warm compress to ease pain along with the use of acetominophen or aspirin. It is important that during the healing process you keep the ear canal dry. If pain worsens or does not improve within 24 hours, seek medical attention. Antibiotic drops are often prescribed for 10 days to fight the infection. If your canal if blocked due to swelling, a small tube (wick) may be inserted to help drain fluid or to instill medication. If the infection is severe oral antibiotics may be prescribed.

Patient Teaching

Avoid swimming in polluted pools, hot tubs, rivers, etc.

Avoid the use of cotton swabs/placing objects in the ear

Take any prescribed medications until finished

Eat soft foods to minimize the discomfort of chewing

Contact your physician if symptoms worsen or are not relieved within a few days

Use a swimming cap while in water

Make sure you dry your eyes thoroughly after being in water/shower