Applied Evidence

A guide to managing disorders of the ear pinna and canal

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Patient (or parent) education is important to ensure proper medication administration. The patient should lie down with the affected ear facing up. After the canal is filled with drops, the patient should remain in this position for 3 to 5 minutes. Gently massaging the tragus can augment delivery. Patients should keep the ear canal as dry as possible and avoid inserting objects (eg, hearing aids, ear buds, cotton-tipped applicators) into the canal for the duration of treatment. The delivery of topical antibiotics can be enhanced by wick placement. Prescribe analgesics (typically nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents) based on severity of pain.7

Have patients abstain from water sports for 7 to 10 days. Showering is acceptable with minimal ear exposure to water; bathing is preferred when possible. If there is no clinical improvement in 48 to 72 hours, ask patients to return for re-evaluation.8 Prevention is essential for patients with a history of recurrent otitis externa. Acetic acid solutions create an acidic environment within the canal to help prevent recurrent AOE. Ear plugs and petroleum jelly–soaked cotton plugs prior to water exposure may also help prevent recurrent AOE.

Malignant otitis externa

Malignant, or necrotizing, otitis externa is an aggressive disease form of otitis externa that is most common in individuals with diabetes or other immunodeficiency disorders.9 Most cases are due to infection with P aeruginosa.10 Prior to the availability of effective antibiotics, mortality rates in patients with necrotizing otitis externa were as high as 50%.11

What you’ll see. Patients typically present with severe ear pain, otorrhea, conductive hearing loss, and a feeling of fullness in the external ear canal. Physical examination reveals purulent otorrhea and a swollen, tender ear canal. Exposed bone may be visible, most often on the floor of the canal. The tympanic membrane and middle ear are seldom involved on initial presentation.

The infection often originates at the junction of the bony and cartilaginous portion of the external canal, spreading through the fissures of Santorini to the skull base. If not aggressively treated, the infection spreads medially to the tympanomastoid suture causing intracranial complications—usually a facial nerve neuropathy.

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