On other occasions, the body can also 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.
In this article, we list 12 causes of a swollen earlobe and provide detail on when urgent medical attention is needed.
Swollen earlobes can be the result of a number of circumstances, including:
A pierce to the ear may cause a swollen earlobe.
Piercings are a common cause of swelling in the earlobes. A 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 similar symptoms of swelling each time the ear is being stretched. 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 2 weeks or are severe.
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.
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.
A small injury or trauma may be enough to irritate and inflame the earlobe. 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
- 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 visible bite or dot can be seen 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.
Image credit: Jmarchn, 2014
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.
An abscess is a bump on or under the skin that is filled with pus or other fluids. Usually, a bacterial infection is what causes it.
Other symptoms of an abscess can vary, but they include 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 and:
- oozing or discharge
A sebaceous cyst can also cause a swollen earlobe. Cysts are pockets in the skin that fill with semiliquid material.
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 also cause swelling in the earlobe.
Poisonous plants can cause other symptoms in the affected area, including:
- a rash
10. Cauliflower ear
Cauliflower ear, or auricular hematoma, appears after blunt trauma to the structure 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:
- itching just inside the ear
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
- pain and irritation
- irritability or mood changes
- redness behind the ear
- loss of hearing
In some cases, discharge may drain from the infected ear.
Mastoiditis requires urgent medical attention.
Treatment and home remedies
Tea tree oil may speed up the wound-healing process.
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.
They should see a doctor if their symptoms become severe.
Infections or other issues caused by bacteria usually require treatment with antibiotics. Mastoiditis or cauliflower ear will require urgent medical treatment.
A doctor or dermatologist should do a proper diagnosis and treatment to cut the risk of complications.
Some home remedies may also help reduce symptoms if the cause of a swollen earlobe does not require medical attention.
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 reduce swelling.
- Over-the-counter pain medications: Drugs for pain and inflammation, such as ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol), and naproxen (Aleve) can reduce pain and swelling.
- Antihistamine: 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.
- Oatmeal baths: Allergic reactions, pain, or itching may be soothed in 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.
When to see a doctor
Home remedies can often treat swollen earlobes quickly and effectively. If home remedies do not reduce swelling or other symptoms, a person should see a doctor for a proper diagnosis.
Medical treatment may be needed if swelling or other symptoms get worse, or the earlobe is releasing pus. 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. Regularly cleaning the ear and keeping it free from excess oil and dirt may also help avoid some causes.
However, people should avoid putting any objects into the ear canal, including fingers, as this can cause damage.
It is also vital to care for any injuries to the earlobe, as some underlying conditions can cause hearing loss if left untreated.
In cases where a swollen earlobe cannot be prevented, it is usually easy to treat with home remedies. Other cases may require medical intervention, but seeking advice early can help prevent potentially serious complications.