Print this topic

HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Outer ear infection (otitis externa)

Pokenga taringa o waho

illustration of an ear showing a red ear canal, indicating an infectionAn outer ear infection (also called otitis externa or swimmer's ear) is an infection of the tube that runs from your outer ear to your ear drum (your ear canal). Symptoms include pain, itching and discharge from your ear canal. It is caused by bacterial or fungal skin infections.

Because these bugs like to grow in warm, moist areas, you are more likely to get otitis externa if your ears are often wet. That is why swimmers often get it.

You are also more likely to get infections if you have a skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis in your ear canal.

Treating outer ear infections

Outer ear infections are treated with ear drops, and symptoms usually improve within a few days. This leaflet explains how to use ear drops. You can also take paracetamol for pain relief if you need it. If the infection is severe, you might need antibiotic tablets.

If you have a lot of pus or debris in your ear canal, it may need to be gently cleaned out. Your general practice may do this, or you may need to have your ear microsuctioned at an ear hygiene clinic.

It is best to avoid getting water in your ears for 14 days after you have had an outer ear infection. You can do this by avoiding water sports and wearing ear plugs or a shower cap in the shower.

Preventing outer ear infections

To stop outer ear infections coming back:

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed October 2023.


See also:

Blocked ears

Middle ear infections (otitis media)

Page reference: 137984

Review key: HIEIG-48027