Outer Ear Disease


The outer ear is the funnel-like part of the ear you can see on the side of the head, plus the ear canal (the hole which leads down to the eardrum). The outer ear collects sounds.

These are the common issues with outer ear disease:

  • Ear Wax
  • Swimmer's Ear
  • Eczema of Ear Canal
  • Foreign Object in Ear


Read more about these in the sections below.




Conditions, Causes and Treatment

Ear Wax Symptoms

  • Partial hearing loss, may be progressive
  • Tinnitus, noises in the ear
  • Earache
  • Fullness in the ear or a sensation the ear is plugged
The skin covering the outer part of the canal has special glands that produce earwax, The purpose of this wax is to keep dust and dirt particles from reaching the eardrum. This wax will either dry out and fall out of the ear, or else work its way to the outside where it can be wiped off. Sometimes attempts to clean the ear only serve to push the wax deeper into the ear canal, causing a wax blockage. This is one of the most common causes of hearing loss.



Should You Clean Your Ears?

When the ear becomes blocked with wax, it is usually caused by probing the ear with things such as cotton-tipped applicators and bobby pins. These objects only push the wax in deeper. Most of the time the ear canal is self-cleaning: it usually works its way from the eardrum to the ear opening and dries, flakes and falls out.

Ideally, you should never have to clean your ear canals. However, this is not always so. If you need to clean your ears, wash the external ear with a cloth over a finger, but do not insert anything into the ear canal.



Placing a few drops of mineral oil, baby oil or commercial ear drops in the ear will often soften the wax. Again, these are recommended only if there is no hole in the eardrum. Hydrogen peroxide may also be used; however, this will result in oxygen bubbling off and water being left behind. Warm, wet ear canals can result in the growth of bacteria. Flushing the ear canal with rubbing alcohol displaces the water and dries the canal skin. Severe pain caused by the alcohol could mean the presence of an eardrum perforation.

Swimmer's Ear Causes

Normally when water gets into the ear, it will run back out and the ear will dry out with no problem. Sometimes, however, water remains trapped in the ear canal, the skin gets soggy, and bacteria and fungi will begin to grow, infecting the outer ear.


  • The ear feels blocked and may itch.
  • The ear canal becomes swollen, sometimes swelling shut.
  • The ear starts draining a runny cloudy liquid.
  • The ear becomes very painful and very tender to touch.
If you have these symptoms, of if glands in your neck become swollen, see your doctor.

Swimmer's Ear Prevention


When your ear feels wet or blocked after being exposed to water, tilt your head sideways with that ear up, pull the ear upward and backward to put in eardrops to dry out the ear. Wiggle your ear to get the drops all the way down in the ear canal, and then turn your head to let them drain out. These drops may be purchased without a prescription.

For further treatment, check with your ENT doctor. He may suggest making your own ear drops using rubbing alcohol as part of the mixture. As the alcohol evaporates, it absorbs the water, helps dry out the ear, and may even kill the bacteria and fungi that cause swimmer’s ear.

If the problem occurs frequently, your ENT doctor may suggest placing oily ear drops in your ears before swimming to protect them from the effects of the water.

If you have itchy, flaky ears, or wax build up, you may be more likely to develop swimmer’s ear. Be especially careful when you expose your ears to water.




Eczema of Ear Canal

An itching ear can dry you crazy! This can be caused by fungus, or allergies, but more often it is chronic dermatitis (skin inflammation) of the ear canal. Seborrheic dermatitis is a condition much like dandruff; the wax is dry, flaky and abundant. If you have this condition, you should avoid foods that aggravate it, such as greasy foods, sugars and starches, carbohydrates and chocolate. A cortisone eardrop at bedtime is prescribed for use when the ears begin to itch. The condition can be controlled, although there is no long-term cure.


Foreign Object in Ear

Beads, pencil lead, erasers and dried beans are common objects that children put into their ears. Removal is a delicate task that must be performed by a doctor.