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Keeping ear pinna infection at bay
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Keeping ear pinna infection at bay

Ear pinna infection increases with continuous rubbing of the external ear, potentially causing a surface infection
Ear pinna infection , ENT,Ear infection, otitis externa
Representational image | Shutterstock

In the anatomy of the human ear, the pinna – that visible framework we often take for granted – can become an important point of health concern. If not taken care of properly, it can lead to external ear infections, ranging from superficial irritations to deeper-seated complications.

What is ear pinna infection?

Dr H K Susheen Dutt, senior consultant – ENT specialist, at Fortis Hospital, in Bengaluru explains, “An ear pinna infection (perichondritis) occurs when the outer part of our ear, called the pinna, becomes infected.” This is the part of the ear we can see. Ear pinna infections, also known as outer ear infections or otitis externa, are usually caused by bacteria or fungi. It can lead to redness, swelling, and pain in the outer ear.

Perichondritis of the ear, as per a 2023 study by Dr Najeed Khan, St Marys Hospital, London and Nina Cunning, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, London, can lead to permanent deformity if not properly managed. Neglected infections may result in pus formation, causing the ear’s shape to change due to devascularisation (loss of the blood supply to a bodily part due to destruction or obstruction of blood vessels). This can lead to a cauliflower-like ear appearance. If left untreated, it can also progress to a serious soft tissue or systemic infection.

Causes of ear pinna infection

Dr Dutt explains that external ear infection, specifically involving the visible framework known as the pinna, can be caused by various factors. Primarily, it may stem from a skin infection, referred to as external otitis. This infection can occur in different ways, including affecting the cartilage framework or the shaped portion of the ear, leading to a condition known as cartilage perichondritis.

The likelihood of infection increases with continuous rubbing of the external ear, potentially causing a surface infection. In some cases, the infection may penetrate deeper into the perichondrium, which is the covering of the cartilage framework of the pinna. Essentially, the infection can affect the skin, perichondrium, or cartilage—comprising all three components of the ear.

“Additionally, ear piercing has the potential to cause infection, particularly affecting the perichondrium of the cartilage within the ear framework,” he said. Perichondritis poses a greater challenge in treatment due to the infection reaching the cartilage, which has a limited blood supply, making it more resistant to treatment.

Preventive measures against perichondritis

Dr Apoorva Reddy, senior otolaryngologist (ENT) and head & neck onco-surgeon, at Kamineni Hospitals, Hyderabad, explained that it is important to adopt gentle cleaning practices by using a washcloth without inserting anything into the ear canal to prevent potential damage. “After swimming or showering, ensure thorough drying by tilting your head to let the excess water drain out,” she suggested. Avoid using earbuds or foreign objects, as these can harm the skin by bringing in harmful bacteria.

Additionally, being mindful of earwax accumulation is crucial, as it serves a protective role but can lead to discomfort or hearing issues when in excess. “If you encounter persistent earwax problems, consider using over-the-counter ear drops to soften the wax for safe removal,” she suggested. Regular check-ups with an ear specialist can help monitor your ear health and address concerns promptly. Maintaining a gentle and non-invasive approach to ear care is essential in preventing complications.

Diagnosis of perichondritis

Notably, cartilage infections are more prevalent in those with diabetes. The diagnosis of pinna infection typically relies on physical observations, such as a reddish appearance and tenderness when touched. In instances where there is a pus discharge, a culture test may be conducted to determine the appropriate course of treatment.

Treatment for ear pinna infection

Ear pinna infections vary in severity, and their treatment depends on the extent of the infection. Dr Reddy says that in mild cases, we can manage symptoms at home by gently cleaning the infected area with soap and water, avoiding ear canal insertion, using over-the-counter pain relievers, applying warm compresses, and ensuring the ear stays dry. For more severe infections, an ENT professional may prescribe antibiotics or antifungal ear drops, conduct further examinations, and recommend specific treatments.

Risks of ignoring perichondritis

Neglecting the treatment of ear pinna infections can lead to complications. The infection may spread, extending into the ear canal and potentially causing more severe issues. Additionally, untreated and severe infections pose a risk to hearing health, with the potential for hearing loss. Dr Reddy suggests addressing ear infections promptly to prevent these complications and maintain healthy ears. Seeking timely medical attention can help mitigate the risks associated with untreated infections and preserve your auditory well-being.

Avoiding recurrence

To minimise the risk of recurrent ear pinna infections, adopting proactive measures is essential. Regular checkups, particularly for people prone to ear infections, can aid in early detection and prompt intervention. Using earplugs while swimming serves as a preventive measure, effectively blocking water entry and reducing the likelihood of infection. Additionally, identifying and steering clear of potential allergens that could contribute to ear irritation is crucial in maintaining ear health. By incorporating these practices into your routine, you can significantly reduce the risk of recurring ear pinna infections.

In conclusion, taking proactive steps to protect your ear health is crucial. By implementing these preventive measures and staying vigilant even after successful treatment, we can significantly reduce the risk of recurring ear pinna infections. Remember, a little care today can lead to a lifetime of healthy hearing.

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