We report 21 cases of invasive external otitis and review 130 cases from the English literature. Invasive external otitis is the term that most appropriately describes the locally invasive Pseudomonas infections that begins in the external ear canal, breaches the epithelial barrier and results in signs of local subcutaneous tissue invasion. Nineteen patients were diabetic. FIfteen of these 19 had preexistent, long-standing diabetes (average 15.8 years) and 10 had microvascular disease. Studies of the skin of the temporal bone in two patients provided evidence of diabetic microangiopathy of the dermal capillaries. Pseudomonas aeruginosa was isolated from the involved area in all cases. All patients without neurologic deficits survived, compared with six of nine with deficits of the central nervous system. All 13 patients in whom initial therapy was successful received a combination of an aminoglycoside and a semisynthetic penicillin, whereas all six episodes of recurrent disease occurred when only one antibiotic was used. The overall mortality was 15 percent (three of 20 in whom the long-term outcome is known). We propose that diabetic microangiopathy of the skin of the temporal bone results in poor local perfusion and creates an environment well suited for invasion by Pseudomonas aeruginosa. There is a good correlation between the extent of disease clinically and prognosis. Effective treatment requires early diagnosis and combination therapy with an aminoglycoside and a semisynthetic penicillin.