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Quick Facts

Malignant External Otitis


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Apr 2020| Content last modified Apr 2020
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What is malignant external otitis?

External otitis is an infection of your ear canal (the tube that connects the outside of your ear to your eardrum). "Malignant" doesn't mean it's cancer, it just means the external otitis is very serious and can be life-threatening. It's serious because the infection has spread from your ear canal into the surrounding bone of your skull.

  • Bacteria (including MRSA) cause the infection

  • Although it's called "malignant," malignant external otitis isn't a type of cancer

  • The risk of malignant external otitis is higher if you have diabetes or a weakened immune system

  • If untreated, it can spread and can paralyze the nerves in your face so that you're unable to move parts of your face

  • Doctors treat malignant external otitis with antibiotics into your vein through an IV

The Outer Ear

The Outer Ear

What are the symptoms of malignant external otitis?

Symptoms include:

  • Severe ear pain

  • Thick, bad smelling fluid draining from your ear

  • Hearing loss

How can doctors tell if I have malignant external otitis?

Doctors will do a CT scan to look for infection in the bone around your ear. They’ll also take samples of tissue and fluid from your ear to find out what types of bacteria are causing your infection.

How do doctors treat malignant external otitis?

You may need to stay in the hospital at first. Doctors will:

  • Give you antibiotics by vein through an IV

  • Clean out your ear canal

  • Sometimes, do surgery to remove badly infected bone

Because the infection is in the bone, you'll need to get IV antibiotics for about 6 weeks. But after you start getting better, you can usually finish getting the antibiotics at home.

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