Eardrum Conditions That Cause Redness Inside the Ear

Redness inside the ear may have several causes, including conditions that affect the tympanic membrane (eardrum). These can include infection, inner-ear irritation, injury, and even allergies.

While you may have symptoms that indicate there is something going on with your eardrum, you can't see it on your own. You'll need to visit a healthcare provider for an examination.

This article discusses the differences between a healthy eardrum and one that is inflamed or irritated. It also covers six conditions that can affect the eardrum, causing redness inside the ear, and when to see a healthcare provider.

Doctor examining the ear.
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Red vs. Healthy Eardrums

A healthy eardrum is usually flexible and a pearl-gray color. Changes in the appearance of the eardrum are often a sign of illness or infection.

A healthcare provider uses a lighted, magnifying instrument called an otoscope to check for such changes.

Redness inside the ear is often an indication of irritation or inflammation in the body. To investigate further, your provider will look at the movement (mobility) of the eardrum.

A healthy eardrum remains flexible while a rigid, stiff eardrum can be a sign of a problem such as fluid in the ears.

Diseases of the ears can also cause the eardrum to appear bulging or retracted.

If there are no other signs or symptoms, a red eardrum on its own is not always a sign of a problem.

Acute Otitis Media

Middle ear infections (acute otitis media) are common condition. They affect people of all ages, but are much more common in small children.

Ear infections can cause a red eardrum that may also bulge and be immobile. A red-looking eardrum from an ear infection is almost always accompanied by other symptoms such as a fever, earache, or ear discharge.

Middle ear infections are usually caused by bacteria and can be treated with antibiotics.

Otitis Externa

Swimmer's ear (otitis externa) is an infection of the outer (external) ear canal. As the name suggests, swimmer's ear happens when contaminated water gets into the ear during water activities—for example, swimming in pools, lakes, or the ocean.

The infection causes redness and irritation of the external ear canal which can spread to the eardrum. Swimmer's ear is commonly treated with antibiotic ear drops.


Trauma to the eardrum is another common cause of a red eardrum. A common cause? A cotton swab being put too far into the ear canal. In addition to redness, an injured eardrum can cause pain, drainage, or visible signs of trauma.

Barotrauma of the ear occurs when the Eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear to the nasal cavity, does not function properly. Excessive pressure builds up behind the eardrum. In some cases, it can even rupture.

This kind of ear trauma usually occurs when you are participating in activities that involve sudden or extreme changes in atmospheric air pressure, such as scuba diving or flying in an airplane. It can also be the result of being exposed to a very loud noise, like an explosion.

Bullous Myringitis and Fungal Myringitis

Bullous myringitis is a condition in which painful vesicles form on the eardrum. These vesicles are sometimes filled with blood. You may develop bullous myringitis if you have a viral infection such as influenza.

Fungal myringitis is a similar infection of the tympanic membrane that is caused by a fungus.

Allergic Skin Conditions

Allergic skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis can also affect the skin inside of the ear and the eardrum.

In addition to redness, severe itching and flaking of the skin inside of the ear are other symptoms of eczema and psoriasis of the ear. Allergic conditions are often treated with steroid ear drops that help with inflammation.


A red eardrum can be caused by infections, injury, and allergies. 

You won’t be able to see inside your own ear to tell if it’s red, but if you have symptoms like pain and discomfort, a provider can use a special tool to see inside your ear to check for signs of a problem. 

Most causes of a red eardrum won’t cause long-term problems as long as they’re diagnosed and treated.

9 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.
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By Kristin Hayes, RN
Kristin Hayes, RN, is a registered nurse specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders for both adults and children.