Swollen Ears: Types, Causes, and Treatments

Swollen ears can occur due to a variety of reasons, including:

  • A piercing
  • Infection

The location of the swelling can be:

  • In the ear canal
  • On the earlobe
  • On the cartilage
  • On the external portion of the ear

This article discusses the types of ear swelling along with potential treatment options.

checking ears

Luis Alvarez / Getty Images

Types of Ear Swelling

Swelling can happen in different areas of the ear:

  • The outer ear consists of the pinna, or auricle; this is the outside/external part of the ear.
  • The tube that connects the outer ear to the middle ear is the ear canal.
  • The eardrum is the divider of the middle of the ear and the outside.
  • The middle of the ear has small bones (ossicles) that consist of the malleus, incus, and stapes. These are the bones that enable sound waves to reach the inner ear.
  • The eustachian tube links the back of the nose to the middle ear. This area is lined with mucosa.
  • The inner ear has cochlea, semicircular canals, and a vestibule that has receptors and nerves for balance and hearing. The semicircular canals contain receptors for balance.

Swollen Outer Ear

Earlobe

The earlobe can swell due to:

  • Infection
  • Abscess
  • Rash

Some common causes of earlobe swelling are:

  • Ear piercings: When an individual gets their ear pierced, an infection can occur. The infection is also known to ooze pus that is yellow, white, or green. Depending on the type of metal in the jewelry, the piercing can also cause an allergic reaction.
  • A rash: A rash can appear on the earlobe due to an infection, a bite, or an allergic reaction to a medication, poison ivy, or personal care products.
  • An abscess: This can come from an infection, oil glands, or hair follicles that are damaged. If it is not treated, it can cause complications. Some symptoms include a pocket of pus with swelling inflammation, fever, and chills.

There are a number of treatments for earlobe swelling.

Cartilage

The cartilage of the ear is the tissue that creates the shape of the outer ear. There is a thin layer of tissue around the cartilage that helps give nutrients to the cartilage. This is called the perichondrium.

When a person has an infection of the tissue and skin surrounding the cartilage of the outer ear, it is called perichondritis. This is typically caused by:

  • Injury due to trauma to the side of the head
  • Ear surgery
  • Ear piercing

Other factors that may increase the risk of infection include surgery, acupuncture, frostbite, and burns.

Symptoms include a swollen, red ear that is painful. Perichondritis can be treated with antibiotics for 10 days or more. Surgery is also an option to remove dead skin and drain the trapped fluid or pus out of the ear.

Treating Outer Ear Swelling

There are a number of options to treat outer ear swelling. The specific treatment depends on the swelling and the severity.

A healthcare provider can give options for over-the-counter medication or prescribe a medication if the swelling is severe. Some of the prescribed options include medicated ointments and antibiotics. For minor swelling, the doctor may suggest things that can be done to help the swelling without medication.  

Swollen Ear Canal

Otitis externa, also called swimmer's ear, is inflammation of the ear canal. This is caused by bacteria and/or fungus.

Because the canal of the ear is warm and dark, it is easy for bacterial growth to happen. The ear canal is known to be easily impacted due to the difficulty of bacteria or foreign bodies exiting the canal. If a person has a lot of hair in the ear, this can make it more difficult. Some of the causes of otitis externa include the following:

  • Swimming in water that is polluted
  • An injury due to putting objects in the ear
  • Water frequently getting trapped in the ear canal
  • Skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema

Some of the symptoms of otitis externa include the following: 

  • Redness and swelling of the outer ear 
  • Blocked ear 
  • Itching in the ear canal   
  • Ear pain
  • Slight fever 
  • Decreased hearing
  • Ear drainage

Swollen Ear Canal Treatment

If otitis externa is diagnosed, a healthcare professional will examine the ear and clear it of any drainage.

Typically, ear drops that have an antibiotic component are prescribed and used for seven to 14 days. If the ear canal is blocked, a gauze is places inside the ear that will help the drops move through the blockage and reach the infection. This is called an ear wick.

Over-the-counter medicine can be taken for the pain from swelling. Oral antibiotics are rarely prescribed, but they can be if the infection spreads beyond the ear.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can you tell if a new ear piercing is infected?

When there is an infection, the piercing can be sore, warm, itchy, tender, or red. The infection is also known to ooze pus that is yellow, white, or green.

How can you reduce swelling from a bug bite on ear cartilage?

Reducing swelling from a bug bite on ear cartilage depends on the type of bug that gave the bite.

You can rinse it with warm, soapy water and apply a warm cloth to the bite. Before using any ointments, medication, or over-the-counter options, contact your healthcare provider. 

A Word From Verywell

There are several reasons why a swollen ear will occur. If you have any symptoms of a swollen ear, contact a healthcare provider so you can get the right treatment and they can help you prevent the condition in the future.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Stanford Children’s Health. Anatomy and physiology of the ear.  

  2. MedlinePlus. Perichondritis. Updated December 1, 2018.

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Swimmer's ear (otitis externa). Updated January 29, 2019.