External Ear

The external ear consists of elastic cartilage framework covered by skin. The skin is loosely attached to the cartilage and trauma can lead to fluid or blood collections which can turn into wrestler’s ear – (please see article).

The other part of the external ear is the ear canal. It is about 3 cm long and is part cartilage and part bone. The cartilaginous portion contains hairs and cerumen(wax) glands. The ear canal usually has an upward turn which narrows- so material (wax, foreign bodies) pushed in (Q-tips, fingers) becomes lodged or impacted.
Infections of the skin of the ear canal cause swelling into the lumen, causing it to narrow more. The skin can become so edematous as to close the ear. It is very painful. Eardrops are the first line of treatment. If the ear is closed, a wick is placed thru the closed area to absorb the drops so the external otitis (swimmer’s ear) will resolve . Rarely are antibiotics necessary.

Patients who are immunocompromised , such as those with Diabetes, can have severe problems with this infection, and should be treated quickly by a specialist.

Some chronic skin conditions can cause problems with the external ear canal. Dermatologic drops, cleaning, and keeping the ear dry are important.

Dr. Wladecki suggests NOT using fingers, Q-tips, washcloths, etc, into the ear canal.
This can cause yeast or fungal infections. A careful irrigation with a solution of equal parts distilled white vinegar and rubbing alcohol cleans and dries the ear. Also Drying the ear with a hair dryer after baths, showers, or swimming can help.

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