Ear Swelling

Understanding the Causes of Ear Swelling

Dealing with a swollen ear is not anyone’s idea of a good time. Experiencing pain, burning sensations, and inflammation can be a significant distraction and can also interfere with a good night’s rest. There are many causes that can result in ear swelling. In this article, we will discuss the different causes of ear swelling and what you can do to find relief.

What Causes Ear Swelling

Physical Injury

An ear bruise can develop from even the slightest amount of trauma. The tissue and blood vessels are delicate and will respond quickly to any impact. Observing your symptoms is essential because a bruise could be due to a more severe issue, like an infection or hematoma. See your doctor if you’re experiencing intense swelling, pain or if the swelling lasts longer than 8 hours.

Common Symptoms:

• Swelling/Inflammation
• Redness


Use an ice pack for 20-minute intervals to help reduce inflammation. Anti-inflammatory over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen can help reduce pain.

Bacterial Infections

Bacterial skin infections can develop in any place on the body; when infections occur on the ears, it’s referred to as cellulitis. An infection can take root wherever there is irritation or damage to the skin. Bug bites, rashes, scratches, punctures, and conditions like swimmer’s ear can all be the root cause of cellulitis.

Common Symptoms:

• Swollen and red skin in or around the ear
• The area is painful and tender to the touch
• Fever from infection


Antibiotics are the most common and effective treatment for cellulitis. It’s essential to see a doctor as soon as possible as the bacterial infection can spread and worsen if left untreated.

Cauliflower Ear

A doctor must differentiate between an auricular hematoma and a bruise. With bruises, the ear may have inflammation but commonly retains the shape of the ear. In contrast, the skin lets go of the cartilage with an auricular hematoma, and the ear will lose its definition. While slight injuries can cause bruising, cauliflower ear is caused by severe impact to the outer ear. Repetitive sports injuries can become a case of cauliflower ear.

Common Symptoms:

• Significant outer ear inflammation
• Intense ear pain
• Past history of forceful trauma to the ear


It’s important to have auricular hematomas treated immediately to avert long-term complications. If the hematoma is not treated quickly, the cartilage could be starved of its blood supply, causing scar tissue to develop. The cauliflower ear gets its name due to the scar tissue that can form. Cauliflower ear scar tissue is difficult to treat.

Developing Swimmer’s Ear

Swimmer’s ear, also called otitis externa, is an infection that occurs inside the ear canal when bacteria infects the ear canal, most often from swimming in cold water or injuries caused by inserting objects like cotton swabs into your ears. The resulting infection has been known to cause swelling and redness of the ear.

Common Symptoms:

• Ear swelling
• Redness
• Ear and jaw pain
• Drainage or discharge from the ear
• Hearing that sounds muffled


The most common treatment for swimmer’s ear is antibiotics. Your doctor may arrange an ear cleaning to remove debris and discharge to speed recovery and reduce pain.

Infection of the Mastoid Bone

Mastoiditis is a damaging bone infection in the mastoid bone. An untreated ear infection often causes it. One of the denotative symptoms of mastoiditis is a swollen ear sticking out at an uncommon tilt. The swelling is typically more apparent behind the ear than on the outer ear and cartilage.

Common Symptoms:

• Severe inflammation of the ear
• Painful to the touch
• Redness behind and around the ear
• White or yellow pus discharge that has a bad smell
• Pulsating, relentless pain behind and around the ear
• Muffled or diminished hearing


If you’re worried you may have mastoiditis, go to the emergency room for immediate treatment. Mastoiditis is commonly treated with intravenous antibiotics. In serious cases, the infection could cause an abscess in the bone that requires surgery to remove.

Other Issues that Cause Swollen Ear

Unfortunately, these are not the only conditions that lead to swollen ears. The ear is a delicate organ, both inside and out. Issues like Dermatitis, allergic reactions, illness, and inborn physical abnormalities can all cause problems. In the end, seeking treatment depends on the severity of your condition.

Make sure to see a doctor if you are experiencing any of the following:

• Swelling lasts longer than a day
• One or both ears are at unusual angles
• Having difficulty hearing
• Feels of vertigo or dizziness
• A rash or bump on or around the ear that won’t go away
• Discharge from the ear that is bloody, foul-smelling, or severe
• Experienced an impact or injury to the ear
• Inflammation on or around the ear that has not improved and is spreading

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