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Ear conditions

Outer ear infection (otitis externa)

Otitis externa is the medical name for inflammation (redness and swelling) of the ear canal, often due to infection.


The symptoms of otitis externa can include:

  • ear pain
  • itchiness
  • liquid discharge from the ear
  • temporary hearing loss.


Otitis externa can be caused by:

  • bacterial or fungal infections
  • skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis which can inflame the skin
  • allergies and irritants – for example, reactions to antibiotic ear drops or hair products may irritate your ear canal.

You’re more at risk of developing otitis externa if you:

  • have too much moisture in your ear due to swimming (particularly in dirty water), sweating or being in a humid environment
  • damage your ear canal – for example, by using cotton buds, scratching or putting other objects in your ear.


See a GP if you think you have otitis externa. It can last for several weeks and cause discomfort if it isn’t treated.

Most often, your GP can prescribe medicated ear drops to treat any infection. If necessary, they may prescribe stronger painkillers, or antibiotics tablets to treat a severe infection.

To stop things from getting worse, and prevent ear infections, try to avoid getting water in the affected ear. You can buy earplugs specially designed for swimming and bathing to help prevent water getting into your ears.

You can remove any discharge from around your affected ear by gently swabbing your outer ear with cotton wool. Be careful not to damage the ear, and don’t put anything inside your ear, such as a cotton bud.

Your GP can also provide advice to help you avoid getting otitis externa again.

With treatment, otitis externa should clear up within two to three days. If it doesn’t, go back to your GP.

Find out more about ear infections on the NHS website.