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Otitis Externa


Otitis externa, or swimmer's ear, is an infection in the outer ear canal. This canal goes from the outside of the ear to the eardrum.



  • Ibuprofen or acetaminophen: These help decrease your pain and fever. They are available without a doctor's order. Ask which medicine is right for you. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. These medicines can cause stomach bleeding if not taken correctly. Ibuprofen can cause kidney damage. Do not take ibuprofen if you have kidney disease, an ulcer, or allergies to aspirin. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage. Do not drink alcohol if you take acetaminophen.

  • Ear drops: These are a combination of a steroid medicine and an antibiotic. The steroid helps decrease redness, swelling, and pain. The antibiotic helps kill the germs that caused your ear infection.

  • Ear wicking: Caregivers will remove fluid or wax from your outer ear canal. They may insert a small tube, called a wick, into your ear to help drain fluid. A wick also may be used to put medicine into your ear canal if the canal is blocked.

  • Take your medicine as directed. Call your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Follow up with your primary healthcare provider or otolaryngologist as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Ear care:

  • Do not put cotton swabs or foreign objects in your ears.

  • Wrap a clean moist washcloth around your finger, and use it to clean your outer ear and remove extra ear wax.

  • Use ear plugs when you swim. Dry your outer ears completely after you swim or bathe.

How to use eardrops:

  • Lie down on your side with your infected ear facing up.

  • Carefully drip the correct number of eardrops into your ear. Have another person help you if possible.

  • Gently move the outside part of your ear back and forth to help the medicine reach your ear canal.

  • Stay lying down in the same position (with your ear facing up) for 3 to 5 minutes.

Contact your primary healthcare provider or otolaryngologist if:

  • You have a fever.

  • Your signs and symptoms do not get better after 2 days of treatment.

  • Your signs and symptoms go away for a time, but then come back.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Return to the emergency department if:

  • You have severe ear pain.

  • You suddenly are unable to hear at all.

  • You have new swelling in your face, behind your ears, or in your neck.

  • You suddenly cannot move part of your face.

  • Your face suddenly feels numb.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.