Otitis is an inflammation of the skin or mucosa in the ear. Depending on the location and characteristics of the inflammation, the type of otitis is different. Otitis externa is an infection of the external auditory canal, usually caused by bacteria or fungus. The term “Swimmer’s ear” is often heard because this type of infection can be caught after swimming. Indeed, moisture retention in the external auditory canal can promote the development of an infection. People may be at higher risk of developing otitis externa if they wear hearing aids or devices blocking the ear or if they have a particular auditory canal shape that prevents moisture from escaping. In addition, an ear canal injury (ex: a laceration caused by the use of a cotton swab) can also lead to otitis externa.
Otitis externa can affect children as well as adults. It often causes pain in the ear that can be amplified by jaw movements. Itching and purulent discharge (otorrhea) in the ear canal may also be present. If there is swelling or otorrhea, it is possible that a clogged ear sensation, hearing loss, and tinnitus occur. These symptoms can fluctuate over time depending on the progression of infection and the movement of otorrhea in the ear. Generally, all these symptoms disappear when the infection is healed.
Audiologist’s and Physician’s Role
The infection must be treated by a doctor. A consultation with the family doctor or the ENT is the next step to take in the case of otitis externa.
The audiologist can offer advice to prevent otitis externa from appearing again. The recommendations may include to dry the ear canals after swimming (without using a cotton swab), to wear bathing plugs, to adapt the tips of hearing aids, etc.