Preventing otitis externa 

It's not always possible to prevent otitis externa, but you can reduce your risk of developing the condition.

Avoid damaging your ears

  • Don't insert cotton wool buds or other objects into your ears. Wax works its way out naturally and cotton buds should only be used to sweep around your outer ear.
  • If earwax build-up is a problem, have it removed by a healthcare professional.

Keep your ears dry and clean

  • Try not to let water, soap or shampoo get inside your ears when you wash them. Wear a shower cap while you shower or bathe if you don't intend to wash your hair.
  • After washing, dry your ears using a hairdryer on a low setting. Never push the corners of a towel into your ears to dry them, as this can cause damage.
  • If you swim regularly, wear a swimming hat that covers your ears or use ear plugs (but make sure you insert them carefully and don't use them if they irritate your ears).

Treat and prevent other skin conditions

  • If you develop otitis externa and you have allergies, tell your GP or practice nurse. Ear drops that contain certain substances, such as neomycin, are more likely to cause an allergic reaction. Your GP, practice nurse or pharmacist can advise you about which ear drops are most suitable for you.
  • If you have an allergic reaction to anything that is placed inside your ears, such as hearing aids, earplugs or earrings, remove the item. A mild allergic reaction will usually clear up on its own. Using hypoallergenic products (products that have a lower potential for causing allergic reactions) may also help.
  • Seek medical advice for any other skin conditions, such as psoriasis or eczema, so they can be treated using the right medication.
  • Try using acidifying ear drops or spray to help keep your ears clean, particularly before and after swimming. These are available without a prescription in most pharmacies and may help to prevent otitis externa recurring.

Page last reviewed: 22/10/2015

Next review due: 31/03/2018