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Emergency Department Discharge Instructions

Ear infection - outer ear/otitis externa

Emergency Care Discharge Instructions

Instruction summary

Otitis externa is an infection of the outer ear canal. The outer ear canal is the passageway that leads into your ear – the same canal which we use to put in ear plugs and earbud headphones. An infection can happen if the canal gets scratched or if there is water trapped inside.

Ear infections can cause a lot of pain and itchiness inside the ear. Patients who are immunocompromised (such as people with severe diabetes, on high-dose prednisone medication, or on chemotherapy) may have more serious disease and need to be watched closely. However, healthy patients will generally make a complete recovery using antibiotic ear drops. If the ear canal is too swollen for the ear drops to get inside, a physician might use a wick (a piece of cotton soaked in medication) to get the medicine into the ear canal.

The most important thing that you can do is to keep your ear canal dry (after the ear drops have been absorbed).

You can take acetaminophen (same thing as Tylenol) and/or ibuprofen (same thing as Advil or Motrin) for pain.

You should feel a significant improvement within two days of taking the antibiotics.

Reasons to return to the ER
  1. If you do not notice an improvement in two days (while taking the antibiotics as directed)
  2. If fever doesn’t resolve within two days of taking the antibiotics, or you develop a new fever (≥38.0 °C or 100.4 °F)
  3. Spreading redness (around or behind the ear)
  4. Drowsiness, a stiff neck or confusion