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What Causes Fungal Ear Infection?

written by: •edited by: Paul Arnold•updated: 3/16/2015

Fungi can make their home in and on many parts of the human body. Most of the time they are completely harmless and we happily co-exist with them. But occasionally we become vulnerable to fungal infections in places such as the feet, nails, and the ear.

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    Fungal Infections of the Ear

    Fungal infections of the ear (medical term Otomycosis) can be caused by a number of different fungal species, but most are caused microscope image of Candida Albicans by Aspergillus spp. and Candida spp.

    Aspergillus fungal species are usually found living in soil, compost, and decaying plant debris, but they can be easily dispersed by the wind.

    Candida is a yeast and a normal constituent of the flora of the skin, mouth, and female genitalia.

    The principle fungi are - Aspergillus fumigatus, Aspergillus niger, Candida albicans, and Candida tropicalis

    There are a number of predisposing factors that can put people at increased risk of fungal ear infections. For example, they are more common in tropical countries, and in people where the ear has been damaged in some way - i.e. by cotton buds or hearing aids. Other predisposing factors include medical conditions such as asthma and eczema.

    If you get water or shampoo in your ears they may itch. If you are tempted to scratch them you are in danger of causing a minor abrasion which is all the invitation that an opportunistic fungus needs to cause an infection.

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    Fungal Ear Infection Symptoms

    The symptoms of fungal ear infections can include one or many of the following; -

    • Itching
    • Ear opening is tender
    • Inflammation
    • Ear discharge
    • Temporary dulled hearing
    • Scaly skin
    • Long, white, filamentous hyphae growing from the surface of the skin

    The infection occurs in the external auditory canal which is passageway that leads from the opening of the ear to the eardrum. And diagnosis is usually made when an ear infection hasn't responded to antibiotics.

    A fungal ear infection can range from mild to very severe. Some types of fungus that can be found in the ear are saprophytic. That is they feed off dead cells and cause us no harm whatsoever. They just go about their business chomping on old bits of us, and we know nothing about them. But if they start to reproduce in great numbers the ear can fill up with fungal debris which puts pressure on the ear canal and causes pain.

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    Fungal Ear Infections

    Most ear infections are actually caused by bacteria and these are cleared up by antibiotics which do not work on fungi. They can even make the infection worse. A swab is usually taken to confirm diagnosis and then anti-fungal ear drops may have to be administered for several weeks as Aspergillus an Candida are tricky pathogens to remove.

    The good news is that once treatment is started it is usually effective. However, the chances of recurrent fungal ear infections are high if the original cause has not been remedied. For example putting an end to poking around the ears with cotton buds or scratching them if they become itchy.