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Outer ear infections are usually caused by bacteria or fungi, or a reaction to something like shampoo or plastic earpieces. But anything that irritates the skin of your ear canal or causes an allergic reaction can cause inflammation and lead to an infection.
See our section on causes of outer ear infection for more information.
Acute outer ear infections come on suddenly and usually go away within six weeks. Chronic outer ear infections cause ongoing symptoms that last for three months or more. Most infections clear up quickly with the right treatment, but sometimes it can take several months to get rid of the infection.
See our section on types of outer ear infection for more information.
The most common symptoms of an outer ear infection include pain in your ear (which may get worse when you push or pull your ear). Other symptoms of an outer ear infection can include itching, discharge from your ear, and pain in your jaw.
See our section on symptoms of outer ear infection for more information.
You can treat the symptoms of a mild outer ear infection at home. For example, you can press a warm face towel against your ear to help reduce pain. If it doesn’t get better, you may need medicines such as acidic ear drops or antibiotics. Or a GP may prescribe antifungal ear drops or sprays combined with a corticosteroid.
See our sections on self-help for outer ear infection and treatment of outer ear infection for more information.
If your symptoms aren’t getting any better within a few days or if your symptoms are severe, contact a GP. If an outer ear infection doesn’t get better, it may lead to complications, and may start to affect your hearing.
See our section on complications of outer ear infection for more information.
The best medicine for an outer ear infection depends on what has caused it. If you have a bacterial infection, you may need ear drops or a spray that contains an antibiotic, whereas if you have a fungal infection, you may need antifungal ear drops or sprays. If you have a serious infection and these don’t work, your GP may refer you to a specialist for oral antibiotics (tablets).
See our section on treatment of outer ear infection for more information.
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