Otomycosis is a fungal infection that affects one, or occasionally both, of the ears.
It mostly affects people who live in warm or tropical areas. It also often affects people who swim frequently, live with diabetes, or have other chronic medical and skin conditions.
There are several treatment options for otomycosis, but it can become chronic.
The following symptoms are common for otomycosis:
- flaky skin
- ringing in the ears
- feeling of fullness in the ears
- discharge of fluid from the ears
- hearing problems
Discharge from the ears is one of the most common symptoms and may be different colors. You may see white, yellow, black, gray, or green fluid.
A fungus causes otomycosis. There are nearly 60 different species of fungi that may be responsible for this infection. Common fungi include Aspergillus and Candida. Sometimes bacteria can combine with the fungi and make the infection more complicated.
Otomycosis is more common in tropical and warm regions because fungi can grow better in these areas. This infection is also more common during the summer months. Fungi need moisture and warmth to grow.
People who swim in contaminated water are more likely to get otomycosis. Even swimming or surfing in clean water can increase the risk.
In addition, people who have weakened immune systems, trauma or injuries in the ear, eczema, or other chronic skin problems are at a higher risk of getting this type of infection.
See a doctor if there’s pain and discharge in one or both of your ears. You may need medication to treat the cause and symptoms, so a correct diagnosis of the problem is necessary.
The doctor will collect your medical history and do a physical exam to diagnose otomycosis. They may use an otoscope, which is a lighted device used to look inside the ears at the eardrum and ear canal.
They may swab your ears to run laboratory tests on the discharge, buildup, or fluid. The tests usually include looking at the organisms under a microscope.
There are several treatment options for otomycosis. Talk to your doctor to determine the best one for your fungal infection.
Your doctor can thoroughly clean your ears to remove buildup and discharge. They may use rinses or other methods to clean your ears. Don’t try this at home with cotton swabs or use other instruments inside your ears. Cotton swabs should only be used on the outside of the ear.
You may need to use antifungal ear drops to treat otomycosis. They may include clotrimazole and fluconazole.
Acetic acid is another common treatment for otomycosis. Usually, a 2 percent solution of these ear drops is used several times a day for about a week. Another option is to use 5 percent aluminum acetate ear drops. Learn how to use ear drops effectively.
Some fungal infections such as Aspergillus may be resistant to the usual ear drops. They may require oral medications like itraconazole (Sporanox).
Your doctor may recommend topical antifungal medications for otomycosis if the fungus is affecting the outside of your ear. These typically come as ointments or creams.
Over-the-counter medications that contain carbamide peroxide can also help clear your ears of wax. After swimming, another option is to use an ear-drop solution of equal parts white vinegar and rubbing alcohol.
Wearing a swim cap or earplugs can also keep water out of your ears. You may want to use dry heat such as a hair dryer to remove moisture from the ears. Make sure to use the lowest setting and avoid putting the hair dryer too close to your ears.
In most cases, antifungal treatments are enough to get rid of otomycosis. However, some people don’t respond to these treatments, and otomycosis may become chronic. In this case, being under the care of an ear specialist (otolaryngologist) may be helpful.
Continue to follow up with your doctor if your symptoms persist.
If you have diabetes, a weakened immune system, or chronic health problems, getting those conditions under good control is important. Treating any chronic skin conditions, like eczema, is also important.
In addition, continued exposure to the fungus from contaminated water or other sources can cause the infection to return.
There are things you can do to help prevent otomycosis:
- Avoid getting water in your ears while swimming or surfing.
- Dry your ears after showering.
- Avoid putting cotton swabs inside your ears.
- Avoid scratching the skin outside and inside your ears.
- Use acetic acid ear drops after getting water in your ears.