A staph infection is caused by a type of germ commonly found on the skin called the Staphylococcus bacteria. While this germ commonly causes skin conditions such as abscesses, boils, or cellulitis, it can also infect your ear.
In fact, the Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) bacteria is
Keep reading to learn more about staph infections in the ear, including symptoms, causes, treatment, and prevention.
If you have AOE, you may experience the following symptoms:
- itchy ear
- redness inside or outside your ear
- drainage of clear fluid
- pain that increases over time
- muffled hearing
- a feeling of blockage in your ear caused by swelling and fluid
Symptoms may worsen as the infection progresses.
Contact your doctor if you experience these symptoms. Seek medical attention immediately if the infection causes severe pain or a fever.
A common cause of a staph infection in your ear occurs when excess water in your ear canal creates an environment for the S. aureus bacteria to grow. While this is usually the result of getting water in your ear while swimming, perspiration or humid weather can also cause the bacteria to grow.
If you tear the skin in your ear while cleaning it with a cotton swab or scratching an itch, the break in the skin could serve as an entry point for the bacteria. Additionally, devices such as hearing aids or earbuds that carry the infection could spread the pathogen into your ear.
Other causes include allergic contact dermatitis — which can be caused by allergies to certain metals, soaps, and shampoos — or skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis.
Your doctor will likely diagnose a staph infection in your ear by performing a physical examination of your ear canal or eardrum to look for any lesions, redness, or swollen areas.
Treatments focus on stopping the infection and allowing your ear time to heal.
AOE is generally treated with antibiotics. For mild to moderate infections, your doctor may recommend topical drugs that include a steroid, such as ear drops. More severe infections may require oral antibiotics.
Malignant otitis externa is a more severe type of infection usually seen in older adults with diabetes. The infection spreads from the ear to the base of the skull. It requires oral antibiotics and a referral to an otolaryngologist (ENT).
In severe cases, especially if the infection is acquired during a hospital stay, treatment may take longer and require antibiotics through an IV.
It’s worth noting that methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is tougher to treat than most strains of S. aureus. That’s because it’s resistant to some commonly used antibiotics.
There are several ways you can help prevent a staph infection in your ear:
- Avoid scraping the skin in your ear when scratching or cleaning your ears.
- Dry your ears after bathing and swimming.
- Avoid swimming in water with high amounts of bacteria.
- Drain water from your ears after swimming by tilting your head to the side.
Many cases of a staph infection in your ear are treatable with antibiotics. However, certain strains of the bacteria may be resistant to antibiotics and require further treatment.
If you experience the common symptoms of an ear infection, see a doctor for a proper diagnosis and specific treatment options.