Ear Infections (“Otitis Externa”): What should I do?

Ear Infections (“Otitis Externa”): What should I do?

Swimmer’s ear can be a pain to deal with, but it is easier to fix than you think. 

Ear infections are seriously painful. If you think you have one, you must be asking questions like, “How did this happen? What is going on inside my ear?”

Ear infections, or Otitis Externa, is an infection in the ear canal. It is often referred to as swimmer’s ear as this infection is often brought on by water that remains in your ear after swimming. This moist environment creates opportunities for bacteria to grow. When you get an ear infection, the external ear canal that connects your external ear to your eardrum becomes inflamed. If your ear canal is constantly damp, your ear may become infected more often than you would like. 


Am I at risk for an ear infection?

Just to be clear – anyone can have otitis externa. But some people get them more often than others. 

You are prone to otitis externa if you: 

  • Have skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
  • Use ear devices, like earphones, earbuds, and hearing aids.
  • Clean your ear canal too often with cotton buds damaging the ear canal lining
  • Had ear syringing done and the water stayed in your ear.
  • Bathed or showered in contaminated water 
  • Do not dry your ears after swimming
  • Are constantly scratching or sticking your finger in your ear.

Additionally, if you have psoriasis, eczema or earwax buildup, you may develop an ear infection too. 


What are the symptoms of an ear infection?

If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, you probably have an ear infection and should see your doctor sooner rather than later!

Symptoms such as: 

  • Heavy feeling inside your ear
  • Blocked ear
  • Decreased hearing; you may hear muffled sounds.
  • Itchy ear canal
  • Ear discharge 
  • Otalgia, which is a constant earache. The pain may be excruciating at times.

How are ear infections treated?

My top priority will be to cure your infection and alleviate your symptoms. A complete ear cleaning is the first step toward getting rid of an ear infection. Ear microsuction is the safest ear cleaning technique when you have an infection. Following which, ear drop antibiotics are administered after.

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I offer microsuction or ear vacuuming for earwax removal too! 


Lady checking the ear

What is microsuction?

Microsuction is the cleanest and safest way to clean your ear. In doing so, it treats otitis externa too. 

Microsuction requires a microscope and a medical suction machine. With the microscope, I am able to locate the build-up and then remove the ear wax with the suction apparatus.

A comfortable attachment is connected to the suction device so that the procedure is totally pain-free. At no time there is any contact with your ear canal walls or eardrums. 

You can rest assured that this procedure is effective, painless, and safe. Just ask my patients! 


How effective is microsuction in treating ear infections?

Microsuction is extremely effective and safe in treating otitis externa. Don’t worry, it is a short procedure that takes not more than 10 minutes. There is no discomfort too, so you can rest easy. The main benefit that this treatment entails is its precision. When you are experiencing an ear infection, other ear cleaning options like irrigation is often not recommended. In addition, compared to ear syringing, microsuction has less room for human errors since the procedure allows the doctor to use both his hands. 

I usually schedule a follow-up appointment 2 weeks after the procedure to check on how patients are doing and if they need a repeat session. 


How long before my ear heals from the infection?

Well, like most things, it sort of depends on the individual. However, it usually takes 7-10 days before you start to see any real improvement. Nasty infections could take longer.


Do over-the-counter treatments work for ear infections?

If your doctor recommends antibiotic ear drops for your infection, you will only be able to get them from a nearby pharmacy in Singapore with a prescription from your clinic.

However, you might be able to get over-the-counter medication for the pain and any discomfort that you are feeling. But keep in mind that those meds will not eliminate the infection. 


What should I do to prevent future ear infections?

I am positive that you don’t want recurring ear infections and thankfully there are steps you can take to decrease your risk.

  • Take your ear drops as your doctor prescribed i.e. don’t stop using them when you start feeling better.
  • Take the time to dry your ears properly.
  • Give swimming a break if you have an ear infection. Also, remember to shake your ears, the ever-popular hop on one foot is pretty effective for getting water out of your ear. Some people use a hairdryer at a low temperature from a safe distance to get rid of excess water. 
  • Consider using earplugs or a shower cap when bathing to keep water out.

Otitis externa can be unpleasant, but the good news is it’s not insurmountable. If you are having ear trouble, seek medical attention. This way, if you have an ear infection, it can be treated effectively.


References 

  1. Hajioff D, MacKeith S. BMJ Clin Evid. 2015 Jun 15;2015:0510. PMID: 26074134 
  2. Kaushik V, Malik T, Saeed SR. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010 Jan 20;(1): CD004740. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004740.pub2. PMID: 20091565 
  3. Wang MC, Liu CY, Shiao AS, Wang T. J Chin Med Assoc. 2005 Aug;68(8):347-52. doi: 10.1016/S1726-4901(09)70174-1. PMID: 16138712

This article was written and medically reviewed by Dr Ben, M.D on 05/07/21