Is Malignant Otitis Externa?
Otitis externa is a common ear infection that’s also known as
swimmer’s ear. It develops in the inner ear. In some cases, otitis externa can
spread to the outer ear and surrounding tissue, including the bones of the jaw
and face. This infection is known as malignant otitis externa.
Although malignant otitis externa shares part of its name with
swimmer’s ear, the condition isn’t due to water remaining in the ear canal. Bacteria
such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa often cause malignant otitis externa. Over 90
percent of people who develop malignant otitis externa have diabetes.
Malignant otitis externa is an aggressive infection rather than a
malignancy, or cancer. An alternative name for malignant otitis externa
is necrotizing external otitis.
If it’s left untreated, malignant otitis externa can be a life-threatening
Causes Malignant Otitis Externa?
Malignant otitis externa isn’t commonly a complication of
swimmer’s ear. Typically, the condition occurs when you have other health
problems or you’re receiving treatment that can weaken your immune system. These
- chemotherapy treatment
If you have a compromised immune system and aggressive bacteria
enter your ear canal, your body will have difficulty warding off infection. If
the bacteria causes an infection, the infection can damage the tissue of your
ear canal and the bones at the base of your skull. If it’s left untreated, the
infection can spread to your brain, cranial nerves, and other parts of your
Are the Symptoms of Malignant Otitis Externa?
The symptoms of malignant otitis externa are easily recognizable.
They can include:
- persistent and foul-smelling yellow or green
drainage from the ear
- ear pain that gets worse when moving the head
- hearing loss
- persistent itching in the ear canal
- difficulty swallowing
- weakness in the facial muscles
- loss of voice, or laryngitis
If any of these symptoms develop, contact your doctor
immediately. Early treatment will help stop the spread of the infection. This
will reduce other health complications that result from the infection.
Is Malignant Otitis Externa Diagnosed?
Your doctor will perform a physical exam to determine if you have
malignant otitis externa. The exam will include a complete health history to
identify underlying conditions that may have compromised your immune system.
During the exam, your doctor will look into your ear to see if
there’s an infection. Your doctor will also examine your head and behind your
ear. If there’s drainage from the ear, your doctor may take a sample, or
culture, of the drainage. They’ll send this sample to a lab for analysis. This
will help identify the bacteria causing the infection.
If you have malignant otitis externa, your doctor may order
additional tests to see if the infection has spread. Such tests include:
- a neurological exam
- a CT scan of the head
- an MRI scan of the head
- a radionuclide scan
Is Malignant Otitis Externa Treated?
Treatment for malignant otitis externa typically involves
antibiotic therapy. The condition can be difficult to treat. You may need to
remain on antibiotics for several months. You may need antibiotics delivered
intravenously, or through a vein in your arm, if your condition is severe. You
must continue treatment until tests show that the infection is gone.
You may also need surgery if significant tissue damage occurs as
a result of the infection. Surgery can remove damaged tissue. Your doctor will
tell you if you need surgery. Surgery occurs after the infection has been
Can I Prevent Malignant Otitis Externa?
The best thing you can do to prevent malignant otitis externa is
to treat all swimmer’s ear infections until they’re gone. This means following
your doctor’s advice and finishing the complete dose of your antibiotics.
In addition, if you have a compromised immune system, you should
take steps to protect your health. If you have diabetes, this means controlling
blood sugar levels. If you have HIV, this means adhering to medications to control
the replication of the virus in your body. Protecting your health is important
for boosting your immune system and preventing the onset of an infection.
Is the Long-Term Outlook?
If you have a compromised immune system, the infection may
return. Recurrent infections can cause damage to the cranial nerves and brain.
Spread of the infection to the brain is rare, but it may result in permanent
injury and even death. Follow your doctor’s instructions to help prevent