What is ear swelling?

The sensation of swelling in, on or around your ear may cause it to feel warm, inflamed and tender. Many causes of swelling and inflammation are attributed to an infection, which occurs when bacteria, viruses or other microorganisms enter your body. Your immune system mounts a response to the microorganisms. It is this response by your immune system that produces the typical symptoms of infection, such as redness, warmth and swelling.

Ear Problems Spotlight

An ear swelling is often attributed to otitis media with effusion, in which the Eustachian tube of the middle ear becomes blocked with fluid and infected. The Eustachian tube connects your ear to the throat and permits the drainage of fluid from your middle ear. If fluid builds up, it can cause the middle ear to become infected with bacteria or viruses, causing pain and swelling.

Another source of swelling is otitis externa, commonly known as swimmer’s ear. This condition, which results from water getting into the outer ear canal, is often accompanied by burning, swelling and itching. Water remaining in the ear creates a warm, moist environment that encourages the growth of bacteria, such as Pseudomonas. Other causes can contribute to otitis externa, including an infection of the bone at the base of the skull, a foreign object lodged in the ear, and irritation from itching or cleaning the ear. Allergies to earrings or skin conditions, such as eczema, can also produce symptoms similar to swimmer’s ear.

Swelling accompanied by fever and redness around the outer ear and the skin around your ear can be indications of a serious infection that should prompt you to contact your health care provider right away. If your experience tenderness in the bone behind your ear, along with pain and swelling, you could have mastoiditis (infection of the mastoid bone behind the ear).

Although most ear infections either resolve on their own or with antibiotics, some symptoms warrant immediate medical attention, as they can point to an infection of the bones behind the ear. Ear swelling may also be a symptom of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you have any serious symptoms, including swelling of the throat or difficulty breathing; high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit; severe pain or severe headache; swelling and redness of the skin around the ear; or throbbing or tenderness behind the ear, especially over the bone.


What other symptoms might occur with ear swelling?

Ear swelling may be accompanied by other symptoms, depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Certain conditions that cause ear swelling may also involve other body systems.

Related localized symptoms that may occur along with ear swelling

Ear swelling may be accompanied by other localized symptoms including:


What causes ear swelling?

Ear swelling may have many possible causes, including allergens (agents that cause allergies), infections, autoimmune disorders, or other causes, such as stress.

Allergic causes of ear swelling

Ear swelling could be an alle... Read more about ear swellingcauses

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 1, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Ear, Nose and Throat

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