Fungal Ear Infection

Authored by Dr Laurence Knott, 07 Jul 2017

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Dr Helen Huins, 07 Jul 2017

Fungal ear infection is an infection of the ear with a fungus. It normally involves the canal that runs from the ear hole to the eardrum (the external auditory canal). The medical term for it is otomycosis.

I don't know why the man who classified them chose the term fungi (the plural of fungus), because a fungal infection rarely has anything to do with fun. But then his name was Elias Magnus Fries, so maybe he had a chip on his shoulder.

Fungal infections of the ear involve pain and itching. The outer ear (by which I mean the bit your child hangs on to during piggy back rides) becomes red and the skin may start to go flaky. Just when you think that's about the worst it can get, Mother Nature sometimes fits your ear canal with a small brewery churning out pint after pint of foul-smelling gooey liquid. As bad as this may seem, just be thankful you're not Shrek.

Just take off that wet suit and listen, will ya? Do you seriously expect to go SCUBA diving and waterskiing in a hot country and pour what amounts to a warm fungal soup into your ear without any consequences? No my friend, you will bring back more than an Aloha T-shirt and an inflatable palm tree from that dream holiday. You have been warned.

Read more about the symptoms of a fungal ear infection.

If it's more common in people who spend their holidays in hot countries spraying sea water in to their ears, I think you can put two and two together.

But doc, you say, I spent my holidays in Skegness and I still got a fungal ear infection. What's that all about? Well, even in the UK, temperatures can climb in the summer, the popular season for fungal infections. And do you poke your ears with cotton buds? Earwax does have a purpose in fighting bugs. Leave it alone and let it do its job. If you have trouble hearing, go see a doctor. Lecture over.

Learn more about the causes of a fungal ear infection.

If you attend your surgery wearing a Hawaiian shirt, a snorkel and flippers, a fungal ear infection may not be the first diagnosis on your doctor's mind. However, once you tell them your symptoms, the penny should soon drop. If there are no clues, it'll most likely be diagnosed after an ear swab.

Find out more about the diagnosis of a fungal ear infection.

Chances are you'll pop into a chemist who will flog you a 2% acetic acid spray. Acetic acid is the main ingredient of vinegar, but I wouldn't go down the nearest chip shop and pour a bottle of Sarson's® into your ear (other brands are available): it's much too strong.

You'll almost certainly end up going to see your GP who will prescribe some antifungal drops, with or without steroids. No one knows which ones are best so it's a bit of trial and error. If that doesn't work, you might need to see a specialist.

Discover more about the treatment of a fungal ear infection.

If the antifungal drops work it'll all settle down quickly and the episode (along with that night under the stars in Honolulu) will become a faded memory. However, you might not be so lucky, and the infection may persist or re-appear from time to time. This is more likely to happen if you have a condition that makes you prone to infections, you keep attacking your ears with cotton buds, or you just can't resist the motion of the ocean.

Read more about the outlook (prognosis) of a fungal ear infection.

Further reading and references

  • Herasym K, Bonaparte JP, Kilty S; A comparison of Locacorten-Vioform and clotrimazole in otomycosis: A systematic review and one-way meta-analysis. Laryngoscope. 2016 Jun126(6):1411-9. doi: 10.1002/lary.25761. Epub 2015 Nov 24.

  • Otitis Externa; DermNet NZ

  • Anwar K, Gohar MS; Otomycosis clinical features, predisposing factors and treatment implications. Pak J Med Sci. 2014 May

Hi everybody, I've been taking Terbinafine now for three weeks (eight week course) for a skin infection but i am yet to see any improvement. Is this normal only i expected to see some signs by now....

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