Ear canal infections

Also known as: acute otitis externa, swimmer’s ear


At The London Clinic we offer the latest treatments for ear canal infections in adults and children. Book an appointment with one of our ear, nose and throat specialists and start your treatment journey today.

What is an ear canal infection?

An acute ear canal infection (otitis externa) occurs when bacteria infects the skin of the ear canal, the tube between the outer ear and ear drum. 

Symptoms of an ear canal infection include: 

  • Severe pain inside the ear
  • High temperature
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Temporary hearing loss or difficulty hearing
  • Buzzing
  • Itching and irritation inside and around the ear
  • Discharge running out of the ear

Young children or babies with an ear infection display behavioural symptoms including: 

  • Restlessness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Pulling and rubbing their ears
  • Difficulty with balance 
  • Don’t respond to sound

Most ear infections clear up on their own within a week but you should seek medical assistance if you develop more severe symptoms such as:

  • A very high temperature
  • Shivering
  • Discharge from the ear
  • Swelling in the ear
  • Severe sore throat

What causes an ear canal infection?

Bacterial infections are responsible for most acute ear canal infections, but there are other causes too, such as:

  • Irritation or damage to the skin inside your ear (e.g. ear wax removal)
  • Fungal infections
  • Allergies
  • Getting water in your ear (swimmer’s ear)

Having a weakened immune system can predispose you to picking up ear infections. 

If you are diabetic or undergoing chemotherapy and develop an ear pain or discharge you should seek immediate medical care to avoid it developing into a severe infection. 

Malignant otitis externa is a condition where the infection spreads into the surrounding bone and tissue around the ear.   

What is the treatment for acute ear canal infections? 

At The London Clinic your specialist will examine your ear and take a swab of any discharge to confirm if there is a bacterial or fungal infection. 

They will send the swab to the pathology department to identify which pathogen is causing the infection. Your results are normally back in a couple of days.

If there is an infection you’ll be given antibacterial or antifungal ear drops to use at home.

Your specialist will inspect your ear and if there’s discharge they will clean it so the medication can penetrate the ear canal more effectively. 

They’ll check that your eardrum is intact as some medicines can’t be given if the eardrum is perforated.

If your ear canal has become too narrow to effectively insert the ear drops, your specialist may place  a small wick (pope wick) into the ear canal to expand it.

The antibiotic and antifungal medication should clear any infection within a week of use. 


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