Q: Good day Dr Ketch. While I was bathing, water got stuck in my ear and when I went to the hospital the doctor, he said I had ear infection. He prescribed some medications. Then he asked me to be doing Valsalva Maneuver. I have done everything and the pain has reduced but I still feel the ear is blocked because air doesn’t pass through when I exercise and when I clean the ear, the discharge has a funny smell. I went back to the doctor and he still prescribed the same medications. It’s been over 3 months now and I still feel the same way. Please, what do I do?
A: Water that remains in your ear for a while can create the sort of moist and warm environment that germs require to grow and multiply. This is very common in people with allergies, swimmers, people who stick their fingers into their ears (yes you! 😀 Don’t look back), use cotton buds (cotton tips) and other objects (tooth picks, pens etc) to clean their ears. The skin of the outer ear canal is very delicate such that sticking things in it to clean it or scratch an itch can lead to bruising making it easy for germs to take over. Young people who use ear phones a lot are at risk of this (for obvious reasons) and also children because of their narrow ear canals. I almost banned y second daughter from swimming because of this. She always got water in her ear while swimming and would be in pain for a while.
Usual symptoms are ear pain, itching, discharge of clear fluid, pain on pulling the outer ear. This may progress to more intense itching, discharge of pus, some degree of temporary hearing loss and may progress to complete blockage of ear canal. This is usually not very serious and resolves with treatment but if complicated may even lead to infections that spread to other parts of the body and could lead to perforated ear drums.
If this infection remains for more than three months, it is then called chronic otitis externa. This can be due to infections caused by a combination of bacteria and fungi, an allergy, a rare strain of bacteria etc
Treatment is usually with ear drops that reduce the swelling in the ear canal, help fight the bacteria or fungi (depending on the infection present) and other medications to fight pain. To help the ear drops make travel to the desired location, trying lying down with the affected ear up.
The Valsalva maneuver is a means of equalizing pressure in the ears by exhaling against a closed mouth and nose. You can try this out when you have ‘airplane ear’. This happens on flights as the planes starts to ascend or begins its descent. Close your mouth, pinch your nose and then try to blow out air against your closed mouth. It works like magic.
I suggest you go see an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist who will evaluate you. He may take swabs from your ear too to get an idea of what infection is there before proceeding to treat. In instances where treatment has not responded to ear drops, oral antibiotics may be prescribed.
All the best.
Have a good night everyone 😀