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The Persistent and Productive Fungal Ear Infection

Posted by on Monday, April 30th, 2012

FUngal Outer Ear Flaking

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When most people think of ear infections they think of red, bacteria-laden ear drums; pus; fever; and pain. They think of screaming babies clutching at their tiny heads. They think of ear tubes and antibiotics. But ear infections come in many forms and bacteria causes just one. Fungus is a less common but much more persistent culprit, to which my little sister can attest.

My little sister takes after me. We’re both insane hypochondriacs about everything. Shockingly, I’m slightly less insane about it than she is, which is hard to believe, even for me. I worry about things I can see: bumps, lumps, scabs, etc. She worries about the intangibles: brain tumors, invisible cancers, autoimmune disorders, and prions. As is true for even the worst hypochondriacs among us, sometimes illness really does strike. When that happens, the little wolf-crying sister is out of luck. Nobody listens.

A Medical Illustration of the Structures of the Ear, Cross Section

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My sister is in college and she smokes. When she tells me about her throat pain or coughing I try to keep my opinions to myself. She knows how much I hate her smoking but she also knows I smoked too. It’s a tricky situation: of course I want to make my sister quit, but I can’t say anything without being a huge hypocrite. I don’t much care about being a hypocrite—addicted people don’t ever really think they’re doing the right thing—but I do care about her opinion of me. I want her to feel like she can talk to me. I don’t want to be a complete downer. So, I didn’t say much of anything the first time she complained about her painful, moist ears. I wanted to say, “it’s because you smoke, stupid!” But I kept my mouth shut.

Moisture from a Fungal Infection of the Inner Ear

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Fungus is everywhere and it causes all kinds of problems: candida, athlete’s foot, even ringworm. Apparently it can colonize ears as easily as it colonizes week-old bread. My sister’s moist ear situation didn’t go away, as many a psychosomatic condition does. It got worse. Soon she was visiting every doctor that would see her and they all said the same thing: you don’t have an infection. They told her to keep her ears dry and sent her on her way. The problem continued. Finally, after several months of agonized worrying, she went to an ear/nose/throat specialist. It turns out she had a fungal infection, a very uncommon and potentially dangerous condition. I’m very happy that she got it figured out but I know I’m never going to hear the end of it (so to speak). The worst thing that can happen to a hypochondriac is to get a real diagnosis.


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One Response to “The Persistent and Productive Fungal Ear Infection”

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