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Swab culture for ear infections

An outer ear infection (otitis externa) is when your outer ear canal becomes inflamed, painful and itchy. Outer ear infection (otitis externa) is usually caused by bacteria. But it may be caused by a fungal infection, especially if you’ve already had antibiotics for a bacterial infection. 

Outer ear infections can be classified depending on how long they last and how much of your ear canal is infected.

  • Acute outer ear infections come on suddenly and usually go away within three weeks. They can come back (recur) after they’ve cleared up.
  • Chronic outer ear infections cause ongoing symptoms that last for at least three months or more. This may lead to some hearing loss.
  • Localised otitis externa is when just a hair follicle at the entrance to your ear has become infected. It might cause a boil.
  • Diffuse otitis externa is when the infection affects more of your ear canal, sometimes reaching as far as your eardrum. This type of outer ear infection is sometimes called swimmer’s ear because it often occurs after you’ve spent time in water.

The most common symptoms of an outer ear infection include:

  • pain in your ear – this can be severe, and may get worse when you push or pull your ear
  • itching
  • discharge from your ear
  • reduced hearing – if the swelling is enough to block your ear canal
  • a full feeling in your ears
  • a red or swollen ear canal
  • dry skin or eczema in or around your ear canal.

If your symptoms are particularly severe or they don’t get better after treatment or they come back, a ear swab is useful this will be sent to a laboratory for testing to find out whether the cause of your ear infection is bacterial or a fungus.