Swollen Ear

Written by Dr. Mary

Ear is an auditory system and sense organ that receives and detects sound. It also functions by helping to keep the balance and position of the body. Humans have a pair of ears located symmetrically on opposite sides of the head.


Ear is composed of the outer ear, middle ear and the inner ear. Outer ear consists of the pinna, ear canal and the superficial layer of the tympanic membrane. Pinna receives sound and passes it through the canal to the tympanic membrane. Middle ear is an air filled cavity consisting of three ossicles called malleus, incus and stapes. The opening of the Eustachian tube is also located in the middle ear connected to the back of nasopharynx. Inner ear composed of the cochlea, vestibular and semicircular canals. Semicircular canals and the vestibule composed the balance portion while the cochlea acts for the hearing and consists of three fluid filled spaces.

There are a lot of reasons for the ear to swell. The most common reason is infection and inflammation. Outer portion of the ear or the ones exposed to the environment may swell due to a lot of reason such as the result of era piercing, insect bites and any form of injury. Other swelling within the ear signifies infection or may indicate of a more serious condition where ear swelling is a symptom. There are types of ear swelling that usually resolves on its own without the necessary treatment while some of the swelling may need medical intervention.

Swollen EarPicture 1: Swollen ear

Image source : bmj.com

ear swellingPicture 2: Ear swelling due to ear piercing

Symptoms

Symptoms of ear swelling depend on which part of the ear is affected. The swelling does not appear without any reason however the gravity of the swelling is. Manifestation of symptoms also varies according to the condition, disease and disorders accompanied with ear swelling.

Localized symptoms with ear swelling

  1. Redness of affected ear or redness of skin around the affected area
  2. Occurrence of ear discharge
  3. Appearance of flaky skin in the ear or around the ear
  4. Pain
  5. Itchiness
  6. Warmth sensation on the ear or around the ear

Other symptoms associated with ear swelling

There are other diseases and disorders that affect the ear and swelling is one of the symptom and these may include:

  1. Cough specially heavy or dry cough
  2. Fever and chills that may have risen from infection in the ear or other certain part of the body
  3. Headache
  4. Sweating or profuse sweating
  5. Runny nose and sore throat

Ear swelling may also appear as a symptom or associated symptom with life-threatening condition. It can be an indication of an infection in the bone behind the ear that needs immediate medical attention. Ear swelling may also appear with a life-threatening allergic reaction requiring an emergency attention. These symptoms are:

  1. Ear swelling together with swelling of the face, lips or tongue that appear suddenly
  2. Difficulty in breathing
  3. Tenderness and throbbing pain behind the ear
  4. Sudden onset of high fever
  5. Sudden onset of severe headache and pain

Swollen Ear Causes

Ear swelling may arise from any condition, disease and disorder. It is commonly attributed to infection which may be bacterial or viral.

Serous otitis media

Eustachian tube in the middle ear is blocked as a result of fluid buildup and causing bacterial infection or viral infection which in turn causes pain and swelling.

Otitis externa

This is commonly known as swimmer’s ear wherein ear swelling is caused by water that entered the water canal. Water retained in the outer canal encourages bacterial growth.

Foreign objects

Objects may be inserted to the ear either accidentally or intentionally. The object may be pushed completely into the bony structure or portion of the canal and may lacerate or perforate the skin or the tympanic membrane.

Ear piercing

Some people experienced minor complications after their ears have been pierced. This will cause the ears or the area of pierce to swell, feel warm to touch, or may be torn or lacerated.

Allergic reaction

There are some people who have skin reaction when the skin comes into contact with nickel or other materials of earrings that can cause irritation and itchiness.

Diagnosis for Swollen Ear

Ear swelling is not a serious condition and it usually relieves on its own. There are however, serious conditions that manifest with ear swelling together with other associated symptoms. It is important to determine the underlying condition that led to swollen ear. Professional health practitioners will have to gather data prior to diagnostic procedure. The data gathered will include when the swelling started and for how long the patient has been suffering from it.

Other questions the doctor may ask are the medicines being taken, food ingested prior to ear swelling and allergic reactions. Doctor may also ask if the patient suffered from any trauma involving the ears and may also ask for recent activities prior to ear swelling. The doctor will then evaluate the data gathered and may also do other diagnostic procedure to isolate mild ear swelling or if may be due to some underlying condition.

Ear Swelling Treatment

The goal of treating swollen ear is to relieve the discomfort, reduce swelling and eradicate or prevent infection from setting in.

Swollen ear can be reduced through application of hot or cold compress. Prescription analgesics may also be given for the first 48 to 92 hours. Antibiotics are given to treat swelling caused by an infection which is sometimes used in combination with corticosteroid agents to soothe inflamed tissues.

Suction may be done if the swelling is due to an insertion of a foreign object or other instrumentation with direct visualization may be used for objects which are difficult to remove.

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