Fungal ear infection, also known as Otomycosis, is a common problem described as a fungal infection of the external auditory canal or in simple terms, the formation of fungus in the ear canal with infrequent complications involving the middle ear.
In this blog, we will discuss the causes of fungal infection in the ear, its symptoms, and treatment options.
Causes of fungal infection in the ear
Otomycosis is an ear infection caused by a fungus. It’s more commonly seen in tropical and subtropical parts of the world and during times of intense heat and humidity.
About 10% of outer ear canal infections (otitis externa) are caused by fungi.
We are surrounded by many types of fungi and regularly come in contact with them. Not everyone is prone to fungal infection, it mostly affects people with a weak immune system.
(I) Which Fungi cause an ear infection?
There are many different types of fungi that cause otomycosis. The most common fungi that cause these fungal infections are Aspergillus and Candida.
Aspergillus is a common fungus that can be found everywhere, both indoors and outdoors. We breathe in Aspergillus spores every day without any problems. But for some people, it can cause health issues like lung infections and allergic reactions.
There are many kinds of fungi that live in our bodies. Candida is a type of yeast that normally lives on your skin and inside your body, including in your mouth, throat, and gut.
(II) Antibiotics and steroids use
There has been an increase in otomycosis cases in recent years. Experts say that this increase is due to the widespread use of broad-spectrum antibiotics and steroids, as well as antibiotic eardrops.
Some researchers believe that antibiotics affect the pH levels of the ear canal and remove any competing bacteria, making it easier for the fungus to grow.
(III) Weakened immune system
Otomycosis is seen more often in people who have weakened immune systems. They may have more complications and recurrences of otomycosis. One severe complication happens if the infection spreads to the temporal bone of your skull. If not treated, this can be fatal.
Some people are more prone to ear canal infections. People with skin conditions like eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, and psoriasis, or those with allergies, are more likely to have infections.
The following people are at a greater risk of getting Otomycosis.
- Staying in the warm tropical climate
- Suffering from diabetes
- Swimming in contaminated water
- Suffering from Eczema
- Having an open wound in the ear
- Dry ear with no earwax protection
- Low immunity
- Using steroids and antibiotics. Excessive use of antibiotic ear drops alters the Ph level of the ear encouraging fungal growth. (pH means Potential of hydrogen. It is a measure of how acidic or non-acidic the surface is)
Symptoms of Ear Fungal Infection (Otomycosis)
The symptoms of otomycosis include:
- Hearing loss
- Discharge of fluid
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Burning feeling in the ear
- A feeling of fullness in the ear
- Severe headaches
Fungal Ear Infection Discharge
- If Aspergillus is the cause of the ear fungus, there will be greyish-black or yellow dots surrounded by cotton-like fungus in the ear canal.
- If the cause of the ear fungus is Candida, you will not notice any fungal formation instead there will be a thick white discharge.
Is Ear Fungus Dangerous?
Ear fungus in the initial stages is just an irritant and causes discomfort. If it is not cured using over-the-counter anti-fungal cream, you should see a doctor without further delay. Neglect can lead to hearing loss, eardrum perforation, and temporal bone infection. The temporal bone is part of our skull that encloses the middle and the inner ear.
People suffering from low immunity, diabetes, or eczema should take special care and visit a doctor.
Treatment of Ear Fungal Infection
Cleaning the ear. Your doctor will first remove any debris from your ear canal. This could involve dry wipes, rinses, or suction. Don’t do this at home with cotton swabs or other objects.
Medication. Your doctor will probably prescribe antifungal ear drops. They may contain clotrimazole, fluconazole, or miconazole.
In most cases, anti-fungal ear drops are prescribed for three weeks. Ear drops containing clotrimazole and fluconazole are the most effective.
If ear drops are found to be ineffective, oral medicines for ear fungal infection containing Itraconazole or Voriconazole are prescribed.
Acetic acid is another common otomycosis treatment. Usually, a two percent solution of these ear drops is used two to three times a day for about a week.
Use only otomycosis ear drops, do not use anti-bacterial ear drops. Using ant-bacterial ear drops will kill the good bacteria in the ear that fights the fungus.
If your ear infection is caused in part by a bacterial infection, you may also be prescribed antibacterial drugs like ceftazidime.
It may take 1 to 2 weeks before your otomycosis improves. In some people, otomycosis may be chronic or recurrent.
Home Remedy for Ear Fungal Infection
In the early stages of ear fungal infection treatment at home is possible. Diluted hydrogen peroxide or any over-the-counter ear drops containing carbamide peroxide can clean the ears.
Swimmers are advised to use a mixture of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar to keep their ears dry.
Some natural oils have anti-fungal properties. Use oils only if they have anti-fungal properties. Using any oil to relieve itching is not recommended as it will promote the growth of fungus.
Oil should only be used if the infection is in the outer ear. Do not pour oil drops into the ear, apply oil lightly with your finger on the dry skin.
What Are the Fungal Ear Infection Complications?
Though fungal ear infection is not a serious issue, it can create complications if treatment is delayed or if the person is immunocompromised (having low immunity).
Delay in otomycosis treatment can lead to hearing loss, tympanic membrane (eardrum) perforation, and temporal bone infection. The fungal infection starts in the outer ear and spreads to the tympanic membrane and further to the temporal bone.
Prevention of Otomycosis
There are some things you can try at home to help prevent otomycosis:
Wear a swim cap or earplugs when swimming. After swimming, dry your ears with a towel.
Use a hair dryer on a low setting to remove moisture from your ears. Don’t put the hair dryer too close to your ears.
Don’t use cotton swabs or other objects to clean your ear. This can push earwax and debris further into your ear canal.
Combine equal parts of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar together. Put a few drops in your ear immediately after swimming. Don’t use this option if your eardrum has been perforated, or torn. Talk to your doctor first.
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