Fungal Ear Infection - Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of a fungal ear infection?

An explanation of the different types of ear infection and which parts of the ear are involved can be found in the separate leaflet called Ear Infection (Otitis Media).

This leaflet is about infection of the ear canal (otitis externa) with a fungus. Other causes of otitis externa can be found in the separate leaflet called Otitis Externa and Painful, Discharging Ears.

Typically, the ear starts to look red and the skin on the outer part of the ear becomes scaly. It may start to itch and become quite uncomfortable. You may notice discharge beginning to leak out of the ear.

The itching is often worse with fungal infections than with other types of ear infection. Apart from this the symptoms of a fungal ear infection are often identical to ear infections caused by germs (bacteria). This means your doctor may prescribe antibiotic ear drops to start with and may only suspect a fungal infection when the treatment doesn't work.

Who gets a fungal infection of the ear?

Fungal infection of the ear is more common in people living in tropical and subtropical countries. It's also more common in people who do a lot of water sports such as SCUBA diving and surfing. It occurs more often in the summer than the winter.

About 1 in 8 people with infections of the outer part of the ear (otitis externa) have fungal infections.

What causes a fungal infection of the ear?

Earwax (cerumen) protects the lining of the ear from fungus so anything that reduces the amount of wax (such as sea water splashing into the ear canal and overuse of cotton buds) will allow a fungal infection to take hold. Eczema of the skin inside the ear can be another risk factor.

The outside temperature plays a significant part. Fungi grow faster in the heat, so it's more common in warmer climates. In the UK it occurs more often in summer than in winter.

9 out of 10 fungal infections are due to a fungus belonging to the Aspergillus species and the rest are caused by a fungus of the Candida species.

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  • 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 Jun 126(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
Author:
Dr Laurence Knott
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Helen Huins
Document ID:
29439 (v1)
Last Checked:
07 July 2017
Next Review:
06 July 2020

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.