Problems of the Outer Ear

The external auditory canal is the passage between the auricle and the eardrum. Sound waves travel down the ear canal to vibrate the eardrum. Ear canal problems are a common cause of hearing loss and can also interfere in the ability to successfully wear a hearing aid.

Conditions that affect the ear canal may cause ear pain, discharge, the ear to feel plugged and hearing loss. Early detection prevents complications and treatment depends on the cause. Some common ear canal problems are discussed below.

Wax impaction and ear canal infection

The skin of the ear canal is lined with special glands that secrete wax. Wax is water resistant and its pH is slightly acidic which helps to prevent ear canal infections. In a healthy ear, the top layer of the skin migrates towards the ear canal opening and transports wax out of the ear. If the ear canal is narrow or tortuous or the skin is dry or unhealthy, a wax impaction can occur. Chronic moisture or skin problems of the canal can cause growth of bacteria or fungus known as otitis externa or “swimmer’s ear”. Sometimes the infection can spread to the soft tissues of the ear, called cellulitis, or perichondritis if the cartilage is affected. In severe cases, the bone of the ear canal can become infected.

Our dedicated team of audiologists and medical providers will treat your underlying wax and ear canal problems and, more importantly, make recommendations to prevent the problem from reoccurring.

Outer ear problemsSurfer’s ear

This is a common term for exostoses. These are bony growths of the external auditory canal that grow slowly to gradual narrow and obstruct the ear can. This occurs when there is frequent exposure to very cold water, usually in divers and surfers. This progressive process may ultimately lead to partial and complete occlusion of the ear canal. This leads to frequent trapping of water in the narrowed ear canal, recurrent infections and occasionally hearing loss. Many patients can be treated conservatively, and learn to care for their ears and wear earplugs to prevent worsening and infections. When the obstruction is severe, surgery can be performed to remove the extra bone and enlarge the ear canal back to a normal size.


Ear canal atresia

This term refers to a narrow ear canal. It can range from a mild narrowing to a complete absence and can occur as a birth defect or can be acquired from scar tissue or other problems of the canal. Birth defects of the ear canal are called congenital atresia and occur in about 1/10,000 babies and can be on one or both sides. This can be associated with abnormalities in the formation of the outer ear (microtia) as well as the structures of the middle and inner ear. The hearing loss can be conductive or mixed. The evaluation and management of congenital aural atresia is very complex and a multidisciplinary approach is required. Surgery can successfully restore hearing to the ear. Bone conduction devices can also used to treat the hearing loss.