Fungal Ear Infection: Otomycosis
What is a Fungal Ear Infection?
A fungal ear infection occurs in the outer part of the ear and is called Otomycosis. It can also be referred to as Fungal Otitis Externa. Otitis means ear infection. So, Fungal Otitis Externa translates to fungal infection in the external part of the ear.
The main characteristic or symptom of otomycosis is severe itching. It can be caused due to cleaning of ears with unsanitized objects, especially after a bath.
What causes Fungal Ear Infections?
Aspergillus Niger(black-colored) or Candida(white-colored) fungi cause the outer ear canal fungal infection. Most cases are because of Aspergillus Niger. The spores of Aspergillus Niger are present in the environment.
Fungal ear infections are caused in the ear canal when water enters it. A damp or humid environment promotes the growth of fungus.
Role of Humid Climates in Causing Otomycosis
As mentioned earlier, moisture in the ear promotes fungal growth. Additionally, when the climate is humid, the chances of fungal ear infection or otomycosis increase.
These cases are more common in coastal areas. In fact, bacterial otitis externa is the second most common ear infection in non-coastal regions, but the same place is taken by fungal otitis externa in coastal regions.
Ear infection due to earbuds
When earbuds or any external objects are used to clean ears, they can cause a rupture of the skin in the ear canal. This rupture skin can be easily subjected to an infection, either bacterial or fungal.
As most people tend to clean their ears after a shower, the skin in the ear canal can be wet, making it more sensitive. So, after a shower, the skin can easily rupture, and as there is moisture all over, a fungal ear infection can be caused.
Check out the case study of a spike in otomycosis in a non-coastal area.
Fungal Ear Infection Symptoms
Fungal ear infection symptoms occur in this order
Itchiness in the ears
Pain in the ear
Deafness - perforation of the eardrum
Severe Itchy Ears
The fungus grows and feeds on the wax when conditions are ideal for its growth, for example, when your ear is wet. While the fungus is eating the wax, we experience itchy ears.
Pain in the Ear
After the completion of the wax, fungus encroaches on the ear canal’s skin, causing pain in the ear.
Deafness due to perforation
The itching present before can worsen when fungus creeps onto the skin. It could even create perforation of the eardrums leading to deafness. This deafness could be a permanent one.
An ENT can diagnose Otomycosis using an otoscope and looking into the ear.
Visiting an ENT for appropriate diagnosis and treatment of ear infections is essential. An ear infection can spread to different parts of the ear, and only a doctor can diagnose and treat it properly to stop it from causing more damage.
Sometimes a person can have both fungal otitis externa and bacterial otitis externa too. Only an ENT doctor can recognize this using an otoscope.
Fungal Ear Infection Treatment
Fungal ear infection treatment involves two steps.
Cleaning of fungus in the ear canal
Antifungal ear drops
An ENT will clean the ear and remove the fungus in the ear. Antifungal ear drops will kill the remaining fungus and stop it from growing further.
Complications of Otomycosis are
Permanent perforation of the eardrum
Infection spreading to the middle ear
Permanent hole in eardrum due to Otomycosis
As mentioned earlier, perforation of the eardrum can occur when not treated on time in the case of fungal otitis externa. When further untreated, the perforation can become permanent, requiring major surgery for its restoration.
Otitis Media due to Fungal Ear Infection
After the eardrum is perforated, the middle ear gets exposed to the external environment for which it is not prepared or not used to. So, this exposure can lead to Otitis Media.
When do complications occur in fungal ear infections?
The above-mentioned both complications occur due to two reasons
Neglect of Otomycosis
Neglecting otomycosis can lead to its rapid spread and worsening of symptoms. It typically begins with intense itchiness, which is soon followed by pain. If left untreated, the infection can progress to affect the eardrum, potentially causing perforation. Even after perforation, timely treatment is crucial, as failure to do so may result in a permanent hole in the tympanic membrane. The exposed middle ear can also be infected due to a hole in the eardrum. However, all these complications can be easily avoided by taking the infection seriously and promptly seeking appropriate medical attention. Early intervention can prevent the infection from advancing and protect your ear's health in the long run.
Fungal Ear Infection Home Treatment
Unfortunately, there are no effective home remedies for fungal ear infections. In fact, two commonly used in-home treatments for ear infections can worsen the condition instead of providing relief.
Oil as ear drops
Some people believe that using oil in the ear can help alleviate itching, assuming it's due to dryness of the outer ear canal. However, this itching may actually be caused by a fungal ear infection. When oil is applied in such cases, it acts as food for the fungus, promoting its growth and causing the infection to spread faster, ultimately worsening the condition.
Self-prescribed antibiotic ear drops
Another common misconception is that antibiotic ear drops can help with itchy ears. These drops may kill the normal bacteria present in the ear canal. Usually, bacteria and fungi coexist in a balanced environment, keeping each other in check. Using antibiotic ear drops disrupts this balance, creating an environment where the fungus can thrive unchecked. As a result, the infection will spread more rapidly and become harder to control.
Otomycosis, a fungal ear infection, is largely preventable, primarily caused by unsanitary ear-cleaning practices. To keep it at bay, remember this simple rule: avoid cleaning your ears altogether. If you feel the need to clear them, refrain from doing so immediately after a shower or if water is present in your ears. Taking these precautions can significantly reduce the risk of developing otomycosis.
How do I know if my ear infection is fungal or bacterial?
Differentiating between a fungal and bacterial ear infection is easy.
A fungal ear infection starts in the outer ear canal and causes severe itching, followed by pain.
Always consult an ENT doctor, as ear infections can be in many parts of the ear. It is better to leave the diagnosis to experts.
Read our article "what causes ear infection" for more details.
Is fungal ear infection serious?
Yes, fungal ear infections(otomycosis) are serious. It can cause perforation of the eardrum, leading to permanent hearing loss.
Visiting an ENT doctor for treatment is not optional.
How do you get rid of a fungal ear infection?
We cannot get rid of fungal ear infections without an ENT doctor's intervention. This is because it involves cleaning out the fungus from the ear canal, followed by antifungal ear drops prescribed by the ENT doctor. Suppose the fungal infection becomes more severe or spreads to the eardrums. In that case, We may also need major ear surgery to fix permanent hearing loss.
How do you treat otomycosis at home?
Unfortunately, otomycosis cannot be treated at home. So, one must consult an ENT doctor and receive timely treatment whenever symptoms are detected.
Can I put oil in my ear if it hurts?
No, you should not put oil in your ear if it hurts, as it could worsen the condition. Oil can act as a food source for any fungus present in the ear, leading to faster spread and worsening of the situation. So, it is recommended to consult a healthcare professional before using any home remedies or oil for ears.