Tuesday, August 02, 2011
ROCHESTER, Minn. — An itch or pain inside the ear may be due to an outer ear infection. The August issue of the Mayo Clinic Health Letter covers outer ear infections, how they are treated and ways to prevent them.
An outer ear infection, also called external otitis (o-TI-tus) or otitis externa, is most often caused by a bacterial infection that invades the layer of skin lining the ear canal. Signs and symptoms of an outer ear infection may include itching of the ear canal; ear pain, especially when touching or tugging on the outer ear; a feeling of fullness in the ear; or clear fluid or pus leaking from the ear.
Prompt treatment usually clears up the infection. Treatment generally starts with cleaning debris and discharge from the outer ear canal so eardrops can reach infected areas. Depending on the type and severity of the infection, eardrops are often prescribed along with other treatments, such as acidic solutions, to reset the ear's antibacterial environment, an antibiotic to fight bacteria, a steroid to reduce inflammation or an antifungal drug.
The Mayo Clinic Health Letter offers these suggestions to help avoid outer ear infections:
Dry ears: Carefully dry ears after swimming or bathing. Water that remains in the ear canal can break down normal earwax, leaving the canal vulnerable to bacterial infection.
Avoid scratches: Scratching with a finger or cotton swab may damage thin ear canal skin.
Avoid irritation Protect the ears with cotton balls when using hairsprays or dyes. Reactions to hair products or jewelry can cause allergies or skin conditions that promote infection.
Take a break from hearing aids Leave hearing aids out for a time to let your ears dry.
Ear pain or discomfort should not be ignored. Severe, aggressive infection is a dangerous complication of an outer ear infection. The infection can spread into cartilage and bone in the skull. This complication is more common in older adults, people with diabetes or those with weakened immune systems. Untreated, it can be life threatening.
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