Otitis Externa

Overview of Otitis Externa

Otitis Externa is the medical term for an inflamed ear canal due to an infection. The infection can be caused by bacteria or fungus, which grow easily in the dark, moist environment of the ear canal. Usually water exposure and trauma to the ear canal precedes an infection. People with skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis and people with diabetes or lowered immune systems are more at risk of developing otitis externa. 

Signs & Symptoms

  • Pain, itching or discharge in the affected ear.
  • Pain especially when the ear is touched or moved.
  • Swollen glands in front or behind the affected ear.
  • Possibly decreased hearing.
  • Redness and swelling of the skin adjacent to the ear if the infection is severe. 


  • Keep your ear canals as dry as possible. Towel dry.
  • Never put Q-Tips, fingers, or hairpins in your ears to clean or dry your ear canals as that can cause trauma to the canal.
  • If you swim or surf, there are over the counter preparations such as “Swimmer’s Ear” to chemically dry your ears after swimming.
  • You can make your own solution by using 2-3 drops of rubbing alcohol mixed with an equal amount of vinegar into the ear canal. 


  • Your health care provider may obtain a culture or microscopic evaluation of the discharge.
  • The canal may be cleaned with gentle suction before treatment to improve visualizing the ear canal and eardrum.
  • Prescription eardrops with antibiotics and/or medication to reduce inflammation are used to treat the external ear infection.
  • Keep your ears as dry as possible. Avoid submerging your head under water while receiving treatment.
  • Pain medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen may help reduce discomfort.
  • For severe or recurrent infections oral antibiotics may be used. 

How We Can Help

  • If you would like to be seen by our medical staff, please contact our Appointment Desk to schedule an appointment.
  • Also, our Advice Nurse service is available at no charge for all UC Davis students to discuss health concerns and the need for medical care.