What to Do With a Pimple in Ear

A pimple in your ear is often painful due to the lack of fat in your ear. However, getting rid of an ear pimple is also tricky.

That's because pimples in the ear are not as easily accessible as pimples on your face, neck, chest, or back. In addition, if popped incorrectly, the pus from the pimple can be pushed into your ear canal and cause obstruction or inflammation.

This article explains ear pimple types, causes, and treatment.

A man covering his aching ear
IAN HOOTON / SPL / Getty Images

Types of Pimples

Pimples are also called acne. However, there are many different types of acne, and treatment can differ depending on the type of acne that you have. Various kinds of acne can appear in your ear.

Blackheads

Comedones are one of the more common forms of acne. An open comedone is also called a blackhead.

Blackheads expose debris in the skin pore. When this debris comes in contact with oxygen, it turns black. Many people believe that the black color is dirt, but you cannot wash it away.

Whitehead

A closed comedone has a layer of skin that covers the skin pore. Because the debris hasn't contacted oxygen, it has a white appearance and is called a whitehead.

Inflammatory Acne

Unresolved whiteheads or blackheads can progress to inflammatory acne. This type of acne is red and very tender. You may hear this called an angry zit.

A papule is a type of inflammatory acne that develops in the hair follicle due to dead skin and oil buildup. Papules often develop into pustules. This type of acne is when the pore gets additionally clogged with pus.

Cysts

Further progression of pimples leads to larger nodules that are increasingly tender. Nodulocystic acne is a severe form of inflammatory acne in which breakouts are large, deep, painful, and often leave scars.

Cystic acne is the most severe type of acne. These blemishes are fluid-filled and sometimes occur along with nodules.

Recap

Different kinds of acne can occur in your ear, including blackheads and whiteheads, inflammatory acne, and cystic acne.

Causes

Ear pimples, like pimples elsewhere on the body, are typically caused by one or several different conditions:

  • Hair follicles obstructed by skin debris
  • Inflammation around the hair follicle
  • Increased activity of sebaceous glands (oily skin)
  • Bacteria

The causes for developing pimples are very individualized. It can be affected by hormones (which is why teenagers often develop acne), medications, hygiene, and many other factors.

Getting an ear pimple is no different than getting acne elsewhere. However, it is less common than on the face or neck for most people.

Should I Pop My Ear Pimple?

Letting a pimple in your ear resolve on its own is best if it is not causing you too much discomfort.

Never use any tool in your ear. Doing so could cause injury to your ear, including rupturing your eardrum.

Trying to manually pop the pimple in your ear with your fingers or fingernail may be unsuccessful and only cause more pain. Manually popping the pimple may also push the pus into your ear canal. Doing so could cause inflammation and additional pain.

In addition to pain, frequently popping pimples may increase your risk of developing scar tissue. So use other home treatment methods or talk to a healthcare provider.

Home Remedies for Ear Pimples

Since you should not pop a pimple in your ear, you may want to try some simple treatments for relief.

Before using any product in your ear, test in on a small skin area to ensure that you do not have an allergic reaction or sensitivity to it.

Warm Compress

Using a warm compress helps to open up your pores. In addition, doing so may allow pimples to drain on their own.

When using a warm compress, ensure that it is not hot enough to cause a burn on your ear. Leave it in place for several minutes, then repeat as desired.

Retinoid Cream

Using retinoid cream can be very helpful in preventing and treating a pimple in your ear. Retinoid cream (vitamin A) helps thin the skin around the pimple. That's because of its keratolytic properties (medication that dissolves skin flakes).

Retinoid creams can have harsh side effects and are not always tolerable. In addition, it sometimes causes the skin to dry out and flake.

Because of the skin-thinning effect, you may be more sensitive to sunburn. With pimples in the ear, this is often less of a concern. However, if your ear pimple is visible, the skin around it may be susceptible. So you will want to apply sunscreen to the area carefully.

Retinoid cream is best applied about 20 minutes after washing your face. If you cannot tolerate it, salicylic acid may be a good substitute.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is an ingredient in many acne treatment products. Strengths range from 2.5% and 10%. Use the lowest dose when using the product to see how your skin reacts before trying higher strengths.

Benzoyl peroxide is effective in killing bacteria on your skin that cause pimples. That means it works to prevent acne. However, it may also mildly help in breaking up any comedones.

Topical Antibiotics

A dermatologist will occasionally recommend using a topical antibiotic like erythromycin or clindamycin along with benzoyl peroxide. However, you should not use topical antibiotics by themselves due to the risk of bacterial resistance.

Tea Tree Oil

While several herbal remedies can treat acne, tea tree oil is one of the most researched.

Tea tree oil 5% is very comparable to benzoyl peroxide. Its effectiveness may be due to its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Recap

There are many ways you can treat an ear pimple at home without popping it. These include a warm compress and various topical over-the-counter (OTC) acne treatments. Sometimes a doctor may prescribe a topical antibiotic to use with other topical treatments.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If at-home methods aren't helping, or you are experiencing a lot of discomfort, it may be time to call a doctor.

Extraction

A dermatologist is the best person to perform an extraction. First, a dermatologist will examine your ear and ear canal. Then, they will clean out your pores using a sterile instrument called an extractor.

The extractor looks like a dental instrument, except it will have a round end with a small hole in it, and typically the other end will either have a larger round end or a pointed tip. A doctor can use this device to apply equal pressure around the pimple and collect the pus for removal.

Due to the lack of fat in your ear, there can be more pain associated with extracting an ear pimple than a pimple on your face.

Pen Punch

Alternately, some physicians use a punch pen to extract acne. This process can sometimes be less painful than extraction because of how the instrument is held, producing less pressure on the ear.

Recap

A dermatologist uses sterile instruments to extract pimples in the ear. To do so, they may use an extractor or a pen punch.

Summary

Ear pimples can be very painful. That's because there is not a lot of fatty tissue in the ear. Avoid trying to pop ear pimples because it can increase the pain, swelling, and lead to an infection. Instead, try at-home methods like warm compress and OTC topical treatments. If none of those work, or you are in a lot of pain, see a healthcare provider to have the pimple extracted under sterile conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why do pimples in the ear hurt more than on other parts of the body?

    Pimples, by nature, can be painful due to inflammation. Ear pimples form right next to cartilage—the tough connective tissue that gives the outer ear shape and structure—so there's no fat to cushion the cartilage from the pressure and swelling caused by a pimple.

  • How long does it take for an ear pimple to go away?

    It depends on how large it is and, at least as important, how you manage it. If you squeeze or pop it (or try to), you're likely to prevent it from healing on its own, which shouldn't take longer than a few days to a week.

  • Is an ear pimple the same as a boil?

    No. Pimples develop when a pore becomes blocked with oil and dead skin cells. Boils occur when a tiny opening in the skin becomes infected with bacteria. When a pimple becomes infected with bacteria and develops pus (forming a pustule), it can look like a boil.

  • What kind of doctor should I see for a bothersome ear pimple?

    See a dermatologist. Although you might be tempted to call on an otolaryngologist (a doctor specializing in ear, nose, and throat health), a pimple is a skin condition. Therefore, a doctor with expertise in that area should treat it.

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8 Sources
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