The ears are among the most sensitive human organs. Even the smallest inflammation in the ear area, such as ear furuncles, can lead to severe pain if not treated early.
What is an ear furuncle?
An ear furuncle, also known as otitis externa circumscripta among physicians, is an inflammatory change in the external auditory canal. There are particularly fine hairs that are hardly noticeable to the human eye due to their small size and thickness.
Despite their small dimensions, these hairs also have hair roots that can reach deep into the skin of the external auditory canal. The last end of the hair, which ends in the hair root, is called the hair follicle or follicle: a part of the hair that is particularly susceptible to inflammation. See acronymmonster for Definition of Auditory Processing Disorders in English.
If inflammation occurs here, it may grow so much that it reaches the surface of the skin. And this is what is called an ear furuncle. As the inflammation progresses, the bacteria multiply. The result is that highly infectious pus forms under the skin, which can lead to severe pain for those affected.
The inflammation of the hair follicle, which ultimately leads to ear furuncles, is usually caused by a special type of bacteria: the staphylococci family. Many subtypes of this family of bacteria belong to the natural human skin flora, which not only do not cause diseases or inflammations, but are also of considerable importance for humans as a protective film.
Other types, on the other hand, can cause inflammation such as ear boils. Due to their relatively low infectivity, not every contact with staphylococci has to lead to the outbreak of an ear furuncle. On the contrary: The already mentioned natural skin flora offers effective protection in this respect. Only when this skin flora is impaired and the natural protective mechanism is disturbed can ear furuncles form.
In particular, cleaning the ear canal with cotton swabs promotes the formation of ear furuncles. Because in addition to removing the skin flora layer, the mechanical cleaning also injures the sensitive hairs, which ultimately promotes inflammation.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
A boil in the ear can be noticed by hot ears and severe pain in the ear. Sensitivity to pain is increased when the cause of the pain is carefully felt. There is severe swelling in the inner ear. The doctor consulted can also detect redness in the ear. If the ear furuncle has matured sufficiently, it forms a yellow focus of pus.
The doctor treating you can use a visual inspection and a smear test to ensure that the symptoms actually indicate an ear furuncle. Ear furuncles are usually, but not always, caused by staphylococci. If these spread through the body, further symptoms and complications can occur.
The person concerned feels weakened throughout his body. He has severe, sometimes radiating, pain in one ear. It can also cause headaches or body aches. The quality of life is impaired by the severe pain.
The buildup of pus in the boil can cause contamination in the ear if it opens at night. Ear boils can also lead to abscess formation. There is a risk of blood poisoning if the triggering germs or staphylococci enter the bloodstream. The typical symptoms of an ear furuncle favor such complications.
Therefore, the early symptoms of an ear furuncle should be clarified and treated by a doctor. Self-treatment of ear furuncles is prohibited in view of the complication-prone complaints.
Diagnosis & History
Furuncles are clinically easy to identify because of their characteristic appearance. Further diagnostic measures are only required if there is a suspicion that staphylococci are not the usual pathogens, but others that require appropriate therapy.
This includes, among other things, the smear. By swabbing the inflamed area, to which some pathogens stick, the treating doctor can determine the specific pathogen in the laboratory and prescribe an appropriate drug to combat the pathogen of the ear furuncle.
An ear furuncle is an inflammation, so that various complications are also possible with this clinical picture. An inflammation in the ear is of course also associated with intense pain, so that the affected person is significantly restricted in everyday life. Complications such as headaches and body aches can also occur.
Pus formation is also a common complication associated with an ear furuncle. Anyone who does not treat the pus formation with the help of medication or a doctor runs a great risk of promoting further complications. This includes, for example, the development of an abscess. An abscess is a collection of pus fluid.
If this pus fluid enters the human bloodstream, there is a risk of dangerous blood poisoning. If you want to avoid these complications, you should take medication as soon as possible if you have an ear furuncle or consult a doctor. Therefore, anyone who suffers from an ear furuncle must also expect various complications at the same time. However, those who resort to taking medication have a good chance of a speedy recovery.
When should you go to the doctor?
Swelling or pain in the ear is considered unusual and should be evaluated by a doctor. If the ear becomes painful or overly sensitive to touch, consult a doctor. If pus forms inside the ear or if there is an unpleasant smell from the ear, the symptoms are to be understood as signs of a health irregularity.
A doctor should be consulted so that the cause can be clarified. If the symptoms increase or persist unabated for several days, there is a need for action. In severe cases there is a risk of blood poisoning and there is a potential danger to life. In the event of an acute health-threatening condition, an emergency service must be alerted.
Headaches, a crooked head position or discomfort in the neck are further signs of a disorder. If sleep disorders set in, if there is reduced physical and mental performance, or if the person concerned complains of being unwell or having a general feeling of illness, a doctor’s visit is necessary. In the case of dizziness, balance disorders and unsteady gait, it is advisable to clarify the symptoms. Body aches, irregular attention or deficits in concentration should be presented to a doctor. If the affected person’s zest for life or well-being decreases due to the impairments, a medical examination is required. Changes in behavior and mood should also be understood as warning signs for existing physical complaints.
Treatment & Therapy
Because bacteria are responsible for the majority of ear furuncles, the primary treatment is antibiotics. Before taking the antibiotics, it is advisable to disinfect the inflamed area with a special disinfectant containing alcohol.
This first killing of surface pathogens supports the antibiotic because it has fewer pathogens to fight. However, the initial alcoholic cleaning should only be carried out by doctors, since not all disinfectants are suitable for this and, in case of doubt, not only make the pathogens of the ear furuncle resistant to the antibiotic, but can also lead to serious damage to the middle ear.
In the case of particularly large ear boils, it may be necessary to surgically cut them open. This is because pus can accumulate in the boil that cannot drain naturally, even with successful antibiotic treatment. The bacteria living in the pus can then lead to recurrences, i.e. the development of a new ear furuncle.
Outlook & Forecast
Under normal circumstances, the prognosis for an ear furuncle is good. It is usually a temporary health impairment that disappears completely. It is associated with pain, hearing impairment and swelling. If the existing inflammation can be cured by administering medication, all existing health irregularities will regress.
In most cases, drugs are administered to help the body’s immune system stop the pathogen from reproducing and kill it. Significant relief of the symptoms can be expected within a few days. Recovery is achieved within a few weeks.
Without adequate medical care, the inflammation can spread throughout the body. The pathogens reach other regions of the body via the blood system and can also cause diseases there. In particular, people with a weakened immune system or patients at risk should therefore not refrain from seeking medical treatment.
Spontaneous healing can also be observed in fundamentally healthy people with a stable endogenous defense system. You do not necessarily need medical care to alleviate the symptoms. Nevertheless, they should be observed by a doctor so that immediate action can be taken if their health deteriorates.
Ear furuncles cannot be completely prevented because of the widespread spread of staphylococci. Although vaccinations are not possible, they are no longer required. After all, although it is a painful condition, it is not life-threatening.
In this respect, the general recommendations remain that of strengthening the immune system and the natural skin flora as the most effective protective mechanisms. This also includes doing without excessive hygiene. The outer ear canal needs natural sebum; removing it does more harm than good.
Doctors therefore advise against cotton swabs and instead recommend cleaning the external ear canal while showering with a gentle jet of water from the shower head instead of cleaning it with cotton swabs or soaps and shower gels containing surfactants. As long as the natural environment of the ear canal is not impaired, pathogens that ultimately lead to ear furuncles cannot usually spread.
An ear furuncle usually does not require long-term follow-up care. After the furuncle has receded, a few short-term wound checks by the doctor are required. Blood values are also measured to determine inflammation in the body. Finally, a comprehensive anamnesis is carried out, in which open questions are clarified.
If no abnormalities are found and the patient has no questions, the treatment can be completed. Any painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs should be gradually tapered off. The responsible doctor should be consulted about this. As part of the aftercare, it is also checked whether the trigger for the ear furuncle has been eliminated.
If necessary, the doctor can name further measures to cure causative diseases such as susceptibility to infections. Follow-up care in this regard is based on the individual symptoms of the patient. The aftercare of an ear furuncle is carried out by the doctor who has already taken over the actual treatment of the furuncle.
The ear doctor or an internist is responsible if the inflammation has spread to other parts of the body. In the event of complications, another specialist may need to be consulted. Treatment of the ear furuncle must be restarted.
You can do that yourself
Regular ear cleaning is an integral part of personal hygiene. Foreign bodies, the formation of cerumen or other dirt must be removed so that no abnormalities or changes in the skin’s appearance develop. Bacteria or other germs can be found in the outer and inner ear and can trigger symptoms.
To ensure that the infestation of the pathogens does not lead to further diseases or worsening of an ear furuncle, thorough checks and cleaning of the ear should take place, especially in the event of a diagnosis. If the person concerned feels insecure or not sufficiently able to carry out a competent cleaning, it is advisable to hire another person to remove impurities.
When cleaning the ear, care must be taken to ensure that existing dirt is not unintentionally pushed deeper into the ear. This often happens when cotton swabs are used to remove earwax or foreign objects. With these, easily picked up particles can be pushed deeper into the auditory canals by twisting and turning. Rinsing the ear is more optimal for improving the situation. They help to thoroughly clean, remove secretions from the ear furuncle and prevent possible new diseases in the ear canal. So that the skin flora is not affected, pH-neutral washing and skin care products should be used.