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HealthInfo Canterbury

Outer ear infection (otitis externa)

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 (ear canal). Symptoms include pain, itching and discharge from your ear canal. It's caused by bacterial or fungal skin infections.

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

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

Treating outer ear infections

We treat outer ear infections 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 sucked out. Your practice nurse can often do this, or you may need to go to an ear hygiene clinic.

It's best to avoid getting water in your ears for seven to 10 days after you've had an outer ear infection.

Self-care for outer ear infections

To stop outer ear infections coming back:

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2020.

See also:

Blocked ears

Middle ear infections (otitis media)


Page reference: 137984

Review key: HIEIG-48027