My Experience with a Fungal Ear Infection
One morning I woke up with a “stuffy” and congested ear. Nothing painful, just uncomfortable. I didn’t give it too much thought or concern except to wonder whether adults actually get ear infections and to see my internist if it didn’t resolve itself by the next day. At no point in the day did I have a fever.
By 4:00 a.m. the next morning, I was in excruciating pain and could not sleep because the pain was so excruciating–and I have a very high pain tolerance. I went to my internist later that day and he assumed it was a typical bacterial infection, I was prescribed antibiotics and pain killers.
Several days later, the infection had not gotten any better and the pain was even worse. I returned to my internist. He irrigated my ear and prescribed anti-bacterial ear drops. The pain immediately lessened after the irrigation. Two days later when I was using the drops, I experiences unbearable pain after applying them. It felt as if the entire left side of my head was burning straight down the entire ear canal.
When I returned to my internist he again tried to irrigate my ear and I experienced the same pain I suffered when using the drops. As it turned out that my eardrum ruptured and the pain was caused by the liquid going deep into my ear canal past my eardrum–a part of the body that no liquid should ever go. Yikes! At that point, the internist referred me to an ENT (otolaryngologist).
The ENT listened to my symptoms and immediately suspected I had a fungal infection. He stated that internists generally do not recognize fungal ear infections and mis-diagnose them as bacterial. The ENT looked at my ear under a microscope and conclusively diagnosed my infection as a fungal infection and not a bacterial one. He also showed me some of the fungus that was removed from my ear, it was a yellow/cream colored substance that was creamy in texture. I probably could have lived without seeing that–but at least now I know what to look for in the future!
Next, he suctioned the fungus out of my ear and sprayed boric acid powder into my ear canal for treatment. Because my eardrum perforated, I could not receive any other treatment. I was told to keep my ear “as dry as the desert” and informed that the infection was likely caused by either water in the ear (fungal infections are colloquially called “Swimmers’ Ear”) or the use of Q-Tips. Q-Tips cause fungal infections by wiping away the protective wax that naturally ocurs and scratching the inner ear canal; thus, leaving the skin susceptible to infections.
I returned to the ENT one week later and was told the infection had resolved itself and that the perforation had heeled. The ENT sprayed more boric acid powder in my ear and directed me to return in six weeks for follow-up.
Three weeks later, during a holiday weekend, I began to have pain in my ear again. I also observed the same light yellow/cream colored substance in my ear that the ENT had showed me during my first appointment. The pain progressively increased throughout the weekend and fortunately, I had some of the painkillers my internist prescribed left over because the pain was once again excruciating. I also researched some home remedies for fungal ear infections, which I will share below.
When the holiday weekend was over, I returned to my ENT. The fungal infection had returned (no surprise!) but because my perforation had healed there were more treatment options. He once again suctioned the fungus out of my ear and sprayed boric acid powder into my ear canal. He also prescribed anti-fungal drops which were essentially Lotrimin (as in the cream used for athlete’s foot) as a solution. There was one problem–the solution was no longer manufactured by the pharmaceutical companies. Therefore, my ENT advised that I could use vinegar in my ear to treat the fungal infection. Vinegar helps to balance the pH in the ear and can be used to treat both bacterial and fungal ear infections. He further advised that I should mix the vinegar with rubbing alcohol (approximately 50-50). The alcohol would help to dry out the ear after applying the drops so that the ear is not a breeding ground for fungus. I continued this treatment and while I was not in pain (thanks to the debris in my ear having been sucked out at the last exam), I could tell there was still fungus in my ear.
When I returned for follow-up, the ENT once again removed the debris from my ear. This time he used a remedy that has been used for fungal infections since the 1930’s, gentian violet. He also once again sprayed the boric acid powder into my ear. This time I was directed not to use the vinegar drops so that it didn’t wash out the gentian violet.
When I returned one week later (and over 2 months after my initial symptoms), my ear was finally better. There was some remaining debris (which was removed) and the ENT once again applied the gentian violet and boric acid powder to be safe. I was told that I only had to return if my symptoms returned. With the exception of some lingering itching, fortunately I am no longer in pain.
Home Remedies & Treatments for Fungal Ear Infections
During my over two month struggle with my fungal ear infection, I did extensive research regarding home remedies and treatments for fungal ear infections. The majority of information that I came across on the internet when searching for fungal ear infection treatments was related to fungal ear infections in dogs. Otherwise, my search tended to yield results detailing treatment for athlete’s foot or yeast infections–not exactly what I was looking for. After my painful experience and extensive search, I wanted to share the information that I learned with the public so that no one would need to suffer like I did. Therefore, I compiled a list of all of the various treatments for fungal ear infections that I learned about. Hopefully, if you are ever suffer from an excruciatingly painful fungal ear infection, you can get some relief from the remedies listed below and not have to suffer the same pain that I did.
Vinegar & Alcohol Solution
A solution of vinegar and rubbing alcohol (50-50 proportions) is what my ENT recommended to treat my fungal ear infection. The vinegar balances the pH in your ear to fight the fungus while the rubbing alcohol dries out the area to prevent the fungus from growing.
To treat, simply mix vinegar and rubbing alcohol equally to create a solution and drop in the solution in your ear. The vinegar and rubbing alcohol solution is also a good preventative measure. If you swim often and/or get fungal infections in your ear(s), apply a vinegar-rubbing alcohol solution to your ears after you swim, shower, or your ears get wet.
Boric acid, also known as Borax, has many uses. Boric acid powder is an old remedy to treat fungal infections and what my ENT used to treat my infection. Boric acid powder can be difficult to find, but it is available on Amazon.
Garlic and Olive Oil
Garlic is a natural anti-fungal which can be mixed with olive oil to fight fungal infections. Simply place a garlic glove directly in your ear canal to kill the fungus or mix minced garlic with olive oil, warm it slightly, and put it in your ear.
Colloidal silver is a liquid substance with silver particles suspended throughout it. Colloidal silver has numerous medicinal uses in that it can be used as an antibacterial cream and for wound dressings. Colloidal silver also has anti-fungal properties. To treat a fungal ear infection with colloidal silver, you can either soak a cotton ball with colloidal silver and place it in the ear canal or use a dropper to drop colloidal silver into the ear.
Gentian violet is a dye that has antibacterial, antifungal, and anthelmintic properties. Gentian violet was discovered in 1884 and has been used for well over a century to treat fungal infections and as an antiseptic. Gentian violet is a deep, rich purple (or violet–hence the name) color and can stain so you want to be very careful while using it. You can apply gentian violet to your ear canal with a medicine dropper or ear drop bottle. Gentian violet can be found at online retailers such as Amazon.
Oregano oil is a natural anti-fungal which can be used to fight fungal infections both internally and externally. Oregano oil can be used in the same manner that colloidal silver or gentian violet are used to treat external fungal infections. Further, you can take oregano oil supplements in order to fight fungal infections internally.
Another way to dry out the ear canal and keep the area dry to help kill off a fungal infection is to use a hair dryer. After showering, hold a hairdryer approximately 12 inches from the side of your head and blow it towards your ear in order to dry out the ear canal. Not only will keeping the area dry help to both fight and prevent fungal infections, the heat will help relieve pain.
As I already addressed, Lotrimin solution to fight fungal ear infections no longer exists, but that doesn’t mean that Lotrimin cream, which is essentially the same thing in cream form, cannot be applied topically to fight fungal infections. Lotrimin cream is designed for and typically used to treat athlete’s foot, but what’s to stop you from using it to fight a fungal ear infection? You can apply it to the outer ear and used the dreaded Q-Tip to apply some of the cream within the ear canal. Just be careful not to push it too deep into the ear canal as you do not want to risk puncturing your eardrum or doing further damage. It won’t be a perfect fix, but Lotrimin cream on the outer ear canal can at least treat some of the infection.
Believe it or not, there is a correlation between fungal infections and dandruff. Anti-dandruff shampoos actually have antifungal properties. In order to fight a fungal ear infection, you can use any anti-dandruff shampoo both as a shampoo to fight and prevent infections, but also to clean your ears and the skin around your ears. My dermatologist recommended Head & Shoulders as being the best anti-dandruff shampoo to use, but feel free to test out different kinds with different ingredients to see which one works best for you.
Salt in a Sock
Because fungal infections fester in dark, moist conditions. The key to fighting a fungal infection is to keep it “dry as the desert.” One way to do this is to warm salt and place the warm salt in a clean sock. Hold the sock filled with salt against your ear. This will not only draw out moisture to keep the area dry, but will also help to alleviate the pain you may feel due to the infection.