Ear canal inflammation – causes, symptoms & treatment

Ear canal inflammation

Ear canal inflammation, or otitis externa, is usually associated with severe earache. It is sometimes quite lengthy, but complications occur only rarely. If attention is paid to professional treatment, the disease heals without consequential damage. If the ear canal inflammation occurs during swimming, bathing or diving, it is also called bathing otitis.

What is ear canal inflammation?

Otitis externa is a very common disease, which is an inflammatory reaction of the skin of the external auditory canal. This extremely painful inflammation is triggered not only by bacteria, but also by fungi or allergies.

Often it comes in the context of the disease to a involvement of the eardrum. A typical feature of the onset of ear canal inflammation is itching; later pulling or burning pain sets in. These increase – due to the proximity of the jaw to the external auditory canal – when chewing. Also, a pull on the auricle or the pressure on the cartilage known as tragus within the auricle causes an aggravation of the symptoms.

Sudden hearing loss, the formation of a secretion, swelling of the lymph nodes in the throat and fever are other symptoms of ear canal inflammation.


The causes of the occurrence of inflammation of the ear canal are diverse. For example, the smallest injuries to the skin of the ear canal, which occur quickly during cleaning, can cause inflammation. The reason for this is the fact that the skin injury facilitates the penetration of bacteria or even makes it possible in the first place.

Also, the excessive cleaning of the ear with ear sticks or soapy water has a favoring effect on the development of ear canal inflammation, since here the protective earwax is consistently removed and thus can not fulfill its function. The risk of infection is particularly high if no cotton swab but an unclean finger is used for cleaning.

The inflammation can also be triggered by a prolonged middle ear infection, a zoster infection or an intolerance of certain substances. Furthermore, a visit to a swimming pool can result in ear canal inflammation. This is to be expected at least if the water that has penetrated into the ear canal cannot drain away completely.

Symptoms, complaints & signs

An inflammation of the ear canal usually heals completely. In rare cases, however, it can also turn into chronic inflammation or lead to serious complications. Typical symptoms of most forms of ear canal inflammation are severe itching in the ear, burning pain in the ear canal, swollen ears and secretion discharge from the affected ear.

The burning pain in the ear is intensified by pulling on the earlobes, pressing on the auricle or chewing. The swollen ear canal is also reddened and scaly. At the same time, hearing on the swollen ear is reduced. Often the secretion flowing out of the ear forms crusts. If the disease continues to spread, there may also be feverlymph node swelling and severe illness.

In immunocompromised persons, even fatal courses are possible. Some inflammation in the ear canals is limited to small areas in the ear. This applies, among other things, to otitis externa circumscripta, where a hair follicle in the form of a boil is inflamed. The entire ear canal is affected in otitis externa diffusa.

A particularly malignant form of ear canal inflammation is otitis externa necroticans. Here, inflamed tissue dies, whereby skull bones and cranial nerves can also be affected by the inflammation. In the context of flu, it can also come to the so-called otitis externa bullosa haemorrhagica with the formation of bloody blisters in the ear canal, on the eardrum and in the middle ear.

Diagnosis & course

The diagnosis of ear canal inflammation by the doctor is made as part of a physical examination. This is usually divided into a palpation examination and an optical assessment of the ear canal. First, the physician checks whether the pain intensifies when pulling on the auricle or applying pressure to the tragus.

If this is the case, this can already be interpreted as a clear indication of the presence of ear canal inflammation. To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor will usually still perform an earroscopy. In this way, redness, swelling or a coating of the ear canal can be easily detected. A hearing or balance test is usually only performed if the patient complains of hearing loss.

In individual cases, the preparation of X-rays, a swab, an examination of the blood count or the performance of a special allergy test may also be ordered.

Although ear canal inflammation proves to be painful and its healing process can extend over a longer period of time, it is comparatively harmless: complications occur very rarely, consequential damage is not to be expected.


Ear canal inflammation is a very unpleasant matter for the affected person. There is a stinging sensation in the ear that lasts for a long time. Anyone who suffers from such inflammation should not postpone a visit to the doctor.

Only with the help of early treatment and the right medication can serious complications be avoided. Anyone who leaves an inflammation inside the ear without any treatment must expect increasing pain. In addition, there may be a strong pus formation, which occurs especially in the morning hours.

However, those who decide early enough for treatment in such a case will make a very good decision. A doctor may prescribe appropriate medications that effectively combat such inflammation. Anyone who refrains from medical treatment must expect a considerable aggravation of the individual symptoms. For this reason, appropriate treatment is of great importance.

When to go to the doctor?

An inflammation of the ear canal is noticeable by stabbing earache. If the pain is bearable, it is not necessary to consult a doctor immediately. In many cases, a significant improvement can be heard after just a few days, provided that strict bed rest is observed. In some cases, however, complications are to be expected, so that medical treatment becomes inevitable.

If pus formation can be detected, the visit to the doctor must no longer be postponed. Then there is a severe inflammation in the ear canal, which should be supplied with medication as soon as possible. If such treatment is dispensed with at this point, then a significant aggravation of the existing complaints is to be expected. Pus production increases, and pain also becomes stronger.

In addition, viruses and bacteria can spread throughout the body, causing a general malaise. Thus, an ear canal inflammation should be treated by a doctor at the latest at the first pus incidence. In this way, the inflammation can be combated quickly and effectively.

Treatment & Therapy

The therapy of ear canal inflammation essentially consists of outpatient treatment, which relies on the application of locally acting measures. The therapy is often started with a meticulous cleaning of the ear canal by the doctor. The administration of medication basically depends on the cause of the disease.

Swelling can be combated very well with cortisone-containing ointments; in case of bacterial infection, an antibiotic is also prescribed. However, this does not work for fungal infections, here the prescription of an is appropriate. A rapid improvement of the symptoms can only be ensured if the patient shows a correspondingly careful behavior.

For example, after showering or bathing, he should make sure to keep the ear canal dry. This can be easily achieved with the help of a hair dryer. If the pain is difficult to bear, can be administered in a targeted manner. In addition, cooling of the ear is often perceived as pleasant in the case of ear canal inflammation.

Outlook & Forecast

With good and timely medical care, the prognosis of ear canal inflammation is favorable. By administering medication, the pathogens are prevented from spreading further. The inflammation heals gradually and the existing symptoms recede. Within a few weeks, the patient is normally symptom-free.

The more advanced the disease is at the beginning of treatment, the longer the healing path. In addition, there is a risk of complications or permanent impairment of hearing. Patients with a weakened immune system or other diseases must expect a delay in regeneration. The body’s defense system needs stronger support, which leads to a slowdown in healing.

Without treatment, the risk of spreading the disease increases. The pathogens multiply and worsen the general health of the patient. In addition, it can lead to a chronic course of the disease. In these cases, the person concerned is threatened with pain with increasing strength and reduced hearing. In addition, disturbances of the vestibular organ may occur. These lead to problems with locomotion and an increase in the general risk of accidents.

An early diagnosis and a rapid start of therapy are therefore important for a good prognosis in the case of ear canal inflammation. If the disease recurs, the prospect of a cure is also favorable.


In order to avoid the occurrence of ear canal inflammation as effectively as possible, the penetration of foreign bodies into the ear should be avoided. This also includes cleaning with cotton swabs and other aids. Since the human ear has a self-cleaning function, the removal of earwax is simply not necessary. Also important: Keep the ear dry and refrain from using allergenic substances.


Inflammation of the ear canals may require follow-up care, otherwise serious complications may occur. Inflammation in the ear canals is characterized by stabbing pain and the formation of pus fluid. Of course, such inflammation can occur in different degrees of severity, so that follow-up care does not always necessarily have to take place.

In the case of a mild to moderate inflammation of the ear canals, this can be dispensed with. After taking anti-inflammatory drugs, the complications and symptoms should subside. Further visits to the doctor can be dispensed with in this case. This matter is different if there is a severe inflammation in the ear canals.

In such a case, appropriate aftercare should be provided. Even if the pain in the ear canal has subsided, further visits to the doctor should take place. As a result, a renewed flare-up of the already overcome inflammation can be detected and prevented. After one to two weeks, further examinations may be discontinued.

However, if further complications or pain occur, you should not wait to go to the doctor. If regular and strict follow-up care takes place, then nothing stands in the way of a complete and quick recovery. The inflammation subsides within a short few days, so the pain will also subside quickly.

What you can do yourself

An ear canal inflammation can be treated and alleviated by the person concerned himself by means of various home remedies, insofar as a doctor’s visit is not possible. However, the inflammation cannot be cured by the remedies, which is why a doctor’s visit should be carried out as soon as possible.

Self-treatment can be carried out with clear alcohol. This should have at least a concentration of 45 percent. It is then carefully dripped into the ear canal and thus serves to disinfect the ear canal. Onions can also be used well for treatment. They contain many valuable .

The onion is cut into small pieces and wrapped in a cloth. Subsequently, the affected person places the cloth with onions on the ear and lets it act. Instead of the onion, the affected person can also use a chamomile tea bag. This is brewed with boiling water, then drained and placed on the ear after cooling.

The juice of freshly squeezed garlic and olive oil can also be used as ear drops. The oil should be lukewarm and two drops are dripped into the ear. Garlic relieves pain and has an anti-inflammatory effect. A wrap of tea tree oil and warm water is also used to treat pain. For this, twelve drops of tea tree oil are diluted in warm water, a cloth is soaked with this solution and placed on the ear.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.