Objective: This guideline provides evidence-based recommendations to manage diffuse acute otitis externa (AOE), defined as generalized inflammation of the external ear canal, which may also involve the pinna or tympanic membrane. The primary purpose is to promote appropriate use of oral and topical antimicrobials and to highlight the need for adequate pain relief. Study design: In creating this guideline, the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation (AAO-HNSF) selected a development group representing the fields of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery, pediatrics, family medicine, infectious disease, internal medicine, emergency medicine, and medical informatics. The guideline was created with the use of an explicit, a priori, evidence-based protocol. Results: The group made a strong recommendation that management of AOE should include an assessment of pain, and the clinician should recommend analgesic treatment based on the severity of pain. The group made recommendations that clinicians should: 1) distinguish diffuse AOE from other causes of otalgia, otorrhea, and inflammation of the ear canal; 2) assess the patient with diffuse AOE for factors that modify management (nonintact tympanic membrane, tympanostomy tube, diabetes, immunocompromised state, prior radiotherapy); and 3) use topical preparations for initial therapy of diffuse, uncomplicated AOE; systemic antimicrobial therapy should not be used unless there is extension outside of the ear canal or the presence of specific host factors that would indicate a need for systemic therapy. The group made additional recommendations that: 4) the choice of topical antimicrobial therapy of diffuse AOE should be based on efficacy, low incidence of adverse events, likelihood of adherence to therapy, and cost; 5) clinicians should inform patients how to administer topical drops, and when the ear canal is obstructed, delivery of topical preparations should be enhanced by aural toilet, placing a wick, or both; 6) when the patient has a tympanostomy tube or known perforation of the tympanic membrane, the clinician should prescribe a nonototoxic topical preparation; and 7) if the patient fails to respond to the initial therapeutic option within 48 to 72 hours, the clinician should reassess the patient to confirm the diagnosis of diffuse AOE and to exclude other causes of illness. And finally, the panel compiled a list of research needs based on limitations of the evidence reviewed. Conclusion: This clinical practice guideline is not intended as a sole source of guidance in evaluating patients with AOE. Rather, it is designed to assist clinicians by providing an evidence-based framework for decision-making strategies. It is not intended to replace clinical judgment or establish a protocol for all individuals with this condition and may not provide the only appropriate approach to the diagnosis and management of this problem. Significance: This is the first, explicit, evidence-based clinical practice guideline on acute otitis externa, and the first clinical practice guideline produced independently by the AAO-HNSF.
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