Symptoms of otitis externa 

Otitis externa can cause a number of different symptoms affecting the ear and the surrounding area.

Symptoms can include:

  • ear pain
  • itching and irritation in and around your ear canal
  • redness and swelling of your outer ear and ear canal
  • a feeling of pressure and fullness inside your ear
  • scaly skin in and around your ear canal, which may peel off
  • discharge from your ear, which can be either thin and watery or thick and pus-like
  • tenderness when you move your ear or jaw
  • swollen and sore glands in your throat
  • some hearing loss

Otitis externa sometimes occurs if a hair follicle inside the ear becomes infected by bacteria and develops into a spot (pimple) or boil.

If this happens, you may be able to see the pimple or boil in a mirror. However, don't attempt to squeeze any pimples or boils in your ear, as this could lead to the infection spreading elsewhere.

Long-term symptoms

In some cases, the symptoms of otitis externa can persist for several months, or sometimes years. This is known as chronic otitis externa.

Symptoms of chronic otitis externa can include:

  • a constant itch in and around your ear canal
  • discomfort and pain in your ear that becomes worse when you move it – this is usually much milder than in short-term otitis externa
  • a thin, watery discharge from your ear
  • a lack of earwax
  • a build-up of thick, dry skin in your ear canal, known as stenosis, which can narrow your ear canal and affect your hearing

Page last reviewed: 22/10/2015

Next review due: 31/03/2018