Have you ever noticed how ear inflammation becomes a common problem as soon as the rainy season begins? Or in a child who has just gotten out of his swimming classes? What is this ear ache and what is its source? You will be surprised to know that it is actually a type of infection.
Otomycosis refers to the fungal infection of the outer ear. An otomycosis can cause your ears to swell and make the overlying skin extremely dry. Often the symptoms are accompanied by a smelly discharge that starts pooling in your ear canal.
People who live in hot, tropical climates or those who more often participate in water sports are at an increased risk of developing otomycosis. This condition is, however, not dangerous at all and can be managed with the help of topical anti-fungal medicines.
In this article, we will take a closer look at otomycosis and explore its causes, symptoms, treatment plan, and ways to prevent it.
What Causes Otomycosis?
Otomycosis is a type of infection caused by a fungus. Fungi are of different types and a lot of them can lead to otomycosis. However, this infection is mostly caused by Aspergillus species. In less common cases, Candidal strains may also be responsible.
It is extremely common to come into contact with different fungal strains on a daily basis. You may not realize it but the environment around you is filled with this microbial agent. However, fungi do not usually cause a problem for you.
A fungal infection or otomycosis is likely to occur in people who have a weakened immune system. Their bodies are unable to handle an infection like those of the ordinary people and, therefore, an infection is common to occur as soon as their body comes in contact with a certain type of fungus.
In addition to this, people who live in warm or tropical climates are naturally at a higher risk of developing otomycosis. This is because a warm, damp place allows fungi to grow and nourish in a much faster way.
Some other risk factors that may be exposing you to a fungal attack include the following:
- Any trauma to the ear due to cotton swabs or hearing aids
- A person suffering from diabetes mellitus
- Any chronic skin problem, for example, eczema
- Participation in water sports such as surfing or swimming
- Taking a swim in water contaminated with fungi
- A lack of cerumen, also known as earwax because it normally reduces the fungal or bacterial growth and prevents the ear canal from drying out
What are the Symptoms?
A person suffering from a fungal infection of the ear is normally expected to develop the following symptoms:
- A feeling of fullness in the ear
- Loss of hearing which may be mistaken for deafness
- Redness saw in the outer ear
- Itching, which is more commonly seen in a fungal infection as compared to a bacterial infection
- Flakiness of skin
- Ringing in the ears or tinnitus
- Swelling or inflammation of the outer ear
- A discharge from the ear which may be yellow, white, green, black, or gray in color
All of the symptoms mentioned above usually occur in one ear which has been directly hit by a fungal strain. However, it is possible to develop an infection in both of your ears at the same time.
How to Diagnose Otomycosis
The symptoms of otomycosis must be kept in mind by the doctor in order to provide a correct diagnosis and a suitable treatment.
The doctor will usually start by taking a complete past history and check if you were previously exposed to any risk factors of otomycosis. This will be followed by a physical exam using an instrument known as an otoscope. The doctor will use this otoscope to examine the inner aspect of your ear canal and the eardrum.
The doctor may even take a sample of fluid or cells from the ear and have a look at it under the microscope. This will help them in differentiating between a bacterial and a fungal infection.
A doctor will choose the most accurate treatment once the diagnosis of otomycosis has been confirmed. The treatment may include a topical cream, eardrops, or oral medicines.
Prior to prescribing any medicines, a doctor will perform ear toileting or ear cleaning. They will most likely use a suction tool or rinse the ear. Cleaning will allow the ear to get rid of any buildup of debris due to the infection.
The hygiene of the affected ear will be kept high in order to stop any further growth of the fungi.
Remember that a person must never try to clear their own ears using cotton swabs or anything else as this may worsen the infection.
After performing an ear toilet, the doctor may prescribe you eardrops that consist of a potent antifungal agent.
Research has indicated that using 1 percent clotrimazole eardrops can successfully cure fungal infections and prevent recurrences.
Eardrops may also contain other agents like miconazole, econazole, or amphotericin B.
Sometimes, the antifungal agents may also be in the form of a topical cream to be applied to the outer ear.
Other medications to be used topically are:
- Salicylic acid
- Aluminum acetate
- Hydrogen peroxide
Oral medicines such as voriconazole or itraconazole are usually given when the infection is more severe or is not being responsive to any topical agents. Some fungal strains tend to be resistant to eardrops.
Remember that oral antifungal medicines can be problematic for people suffering from liver problems.
In addition to this, a doctor may provide you with OTC pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen to ease any associated pain.
Complications due to otomycosis are usually rare but certainly possible.
The infection can acquire a chronic state if you do not get it treated or if it fails to respond to any treatment. This may occur if a patient gets continuous exposure to water contaminated with a fungus.
Otomycosis can invade into the deeper layers of your ear and may even perforate the eardrum. It may also travel to the base of your skull or the inner ear.
Such types of infections usually require oral antifungal medicines or surgical interventions. A complication is more likely to occur in people who have a weak immune system.
There are a few factors that can help in the prevention of otomycosis which includes:
- using earplugs when taking part in any water sports to keep water out
- leaving a tiny amount of wax inside the ears to get benefit from its antifungal properties
- drying the ears properly after taking a bath or a swim
- Using a hairdryer at a slow speed for drying the ears. Be careful not to burn the delicate skin
- Not putting any cotton swabs in the ears
- Avoiding to scratch the ear as it may damage the skin and increase the risk of fungal infection
Otomycosis is usually not a dangerous condition and can be treated with antifungal medicines. However, it can become chronic if negligence is shown in treating it.