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A swollen earlobe is typically caused by damage or a reaction in the earlobe. Bacteria and other germs may get into the earlobe through a cut or piercing and result in an infection.

On other occasions, a person may have an allergic reaction to a product or item used on the ear.

People can usually treat swollen earlobes with home remedies and over-the-counter medications, but some causes may need urgent medical care.

Here are 12 causes of a swollen earlobe and details on when a person should seek urgent medical attention.

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Swollen earlobes can be the result of a number of circumstances, including:

1. Piercings

Piercings are a common cause of swelling in the earlobes. A new piercing is an open wound, and swelling is part of the body’s natural reaction to any damage. Most people who get their ears pierced will notice pain and swelling for up to a week, sometimes more.

People with gauges or plugs in their ears may notice swelling each time they stretch the ear.

Infected ear piercings can also cause the earlobe to swell, even if the person has had a piercing for many years.

People should see a doctor if their symptoms persist for more than two weeks or are severe. If a piercing is infected, the earring or other item in the ear needs to be removed, and the person will need to treat the infection with antibiotics.

2. Allergic reaction or contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is another common cause of a swollen earlobe. This is typically due to an allergic reaction by the skin to some types of jewelry. Contact dermatitis can develop over time as the skin has increased exposure to the jewelry at issue.

Nickel earrings may cause one or both of the earlobes to swell, as may other non-hypoallergenic metals. Avoiding jewelry that contains irritants can help prevent symptoms and allow the ears to heal.

The skin on the ears can also react to lotion, perfume, or another body product.

These reactions can make the skin red, inflamed, and itchy. It may also start to flake or shed and look very dry.

If someone keeps track of what products cause their symptoms, it can help a dermatologist determine the ingredient that causes the reaction.

3. Injury

A small injury or trauma may be enough to irritate and inflame the earlobe because bacteria can enter the body. Common injuries include:

  • pulling too hard on an earring
  • wearing very heavy earrings
  • wearing earrings that are too big for the piercing
  • cuts and scrapes to the earlobe
  • an ear piercing ripping through the earlobe
  • getting hit on the ear with a ball or other object during sports

An injured earlobe may swell and be painful or tender to the touch.

4. Bug bite

A mysterious swelling in the ear that appears overnight may be a bug bite or insect sting.

In some cases, a person will be able to see a visible bite or dot at the center of the swelling. Bug bites may cause other symptoms, including itching, pain, and redness.

Oral antihistamines or hydrocortisone creams can help relieve symptoms of a bug bite.

If the symptoms get worse or spread to the neck, face, or throat, a person should seek immediate medical attention, as they may be having an allergic reaction.

5. Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a type of bacterial infection of the skin. It can be painful and may make the skin red and swollen.

An earlobe affected with cellulitis may be tender and hot to the touch. Cellulitis can spread to the bloodstream or other tissues, so it requires medical attention.

6. Abscess

An abscess is a bump on or under the skin that is filled with pus. Usually, a bacterial infection causes it.

Other symptoms of an abscess can vary, but they include pain and swelling. In some cases, a person may experience a fever, nausea, and drainage from the area. An abscess can get worse if it is not treated.

7. Boil or carbuncle

A boil is an infection around a hair follicle under the skin’s surface that fills with pus. A group of boils is a carbuncle.

Boils are painful when touched and can cause swelling.

In some cases, but not all, a person may experience the following symptoms:

  • aches
  • fever
  • fatigue
  • oozing or discharge

8. Cyst

A sebaceous cyst can also cause a swollen earlobe. Cysts are pockets in the skin that fill with semiliquid material. Depending on the type, cysts may fluctuate in size.

Cysts may be uncomfortable, and they often require medical drainage to heal completely.

9. Poisonous plants

Contact with a poisonous plant, such as poison ivy, poison oak, or sumac, may cause swelling in the earlobe.

Poisonous plants can cause other symptoms in the affected area, including:

  • a rash
  • stinging
  • itching
  • blisters

If a person scratches at the affected area, they could potentially get a secondary bacterial infection if the skin breaks.

10. Cauliflower ear

Cauliflower ear, or auricular hematoma, appears after blunt trauma to the structure of the ear. This is not an injury of the earlobe specifically, but is usually closer to the helix of the ear.

The injury is commonly associated with boxers and mixed martial artists who regularly take hits to the head.

These types of injuries cause blood to pool in the outer ear. If the ear is not drained after the injury, it can become deformed and take on a rough, lumpy appearance.

The area may also be painful and bruised, and it can become infected.

11. Swimmer’s ear

Otitis externa, commonly known as swimmer’s ear, is an infection in the ear canal. It may spread towards the earlobe and cause swelling.

Additional symptoms include:

  • inflammation
  • pain
  • redness
  • tenderness
  • itching just inside the ear
  • drainage
  • muffled hearing
  • a clogged sensation in the ears
  • tenderness

12. Mastoiditis

The mastoid bone is the spongy bone of the inner ear. Mastoiditis is an infection in this bone that may cause the ear to swell.

Other symptoms include:

  • fever or chills
  • headache
  • drowsiness
  • pain and irritation
  • irritability or mood changes
  • redness behind the ear
  • loss of hearing

In some cases, discharge may drain from the infected ear.

A person can take antibiotics to prevent the condition from becoming dangerous to their health. However, if a person leaves mastoiditis untreated, it could become life-threatening.

Treatment for a swollen earlobe depends on the underlying cause. People with a swollen earlobe due to an allergic reaction should avoid allergens in the future. This can include nickel jewelry.

A person should see a doctor if their symptoms become severe.

Infections or other issues caused by bacteria usually require treatment with antibiotics.

A doctor should do a proper diagnosis and recommend the right treatment to avoid possible complications.

Some home remedies may also help reduce symptoms.

Home remedies for a swollen earlobe include:

  • Warm or cold compresses: A cold compress can help numb the pain, and a warm compress may increase circulation in the area to help reduce swelling. A warm compress also can help a draining abscess to drain better.
  • Remove jewelry: If a piercing is infected, remove the jewelry from the piercing.
  • Over-the-counter pain medications: Drugs for pain and inflammation, such as ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol), and naproxen (Aleve) can reduce pain and swelling.
  • Antihistamines: Oral or topical antihistamines can help reduce symptoms of bug bites and allergic reactions. Calamine lotion may also have a soothing effect on rashes.
  • Astringents: Astringents, such as witch hazel, may help constrict the tissues and reduce swelling in the earlobe. They should not be applied to broken skin.
  • Oatmeal baths: Allergic reactions, pain, or itching may be soothed by an oatmeal bath. A person can hold their ear in a small bowl of warm water and finely ground oatmeal, or apply the mixture directly to the ear before rinsing it off.
  • Tea tree oil: This essential oil may speed up the wound healing process and fight off bacteria. Tea tree oil should not be applied to broken skin.

A person can often use home remedies to treat a swollen earlobe quickly and effectively. If home remedies do not reduce swelling or other symptoms, a person should see a doctor for a proper diagnosis.

A person may need medical treatment, such as antibiotics, if swelling or other symptoms get worse. Infections should be treated as soon as possible to avoid complications.

If a person experiences swelling on the earlobe in addition to symptoms of a severe allergic reaction from a sting, such as hives and difficulty breathing, they should seek emergency medical attention.

To help prevent a swollen earlobe, a person should avoid known allergens, such as perfumed products or certain metals. A person should also regularly clean their ears and keep them free from excess oil and dirt.

People should avoid putting any objects into the ear canal, including their fingers, as this can cause damage.

It is vital for a person to care for any injuries to the earlobe, as some underlying conditions can cause hearing loss without treatment.

In many cases, a swollen earlobe is easy to treat with home remedies. Other cases may require medical intervention, but seeking advice early can help prevent potentially serious complications.

Some of the treatments listed in this article are available for purchase online.