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 allergic reaction to any of the following:

  • Certain foods
  • Cosmetics, dyes or detergents
  • Industrial chemicals, such as those found in elastic, latex or rubber
  • Insect bites or stings
  • Metals, especially in jewelry
  • Poison ivy or oak

Infectious causes of ear swelling

Ear swelling can also be caused by infections including:

  • Common cold (viral respiratory infection)
  • Influenza (flu)
  • Mastoiditis (infection of the bone behind the ear)
  • Other viral or bacterial infections
  • Otitis externa (infection of the outer ear, commonly known as swimmer’s ear)
  • Otitis media with effusion (ear infection with swelling)

Other causes of ear swelling

Ear swelling can be caused by other factors such as:

  • Foreign body in external canal
  • Medications

Serious or life-threatening causes of ear swelling

In some cases, swelling may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Anaphylaxis (life-threatening allergic reaction)
  • Cancers

Questions for diagnosing the cause of ear swelling

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your ear swelling including:

  • When did your ear swelling begin?
  • Are you taking any medications?
  • Are you experiencing oozing, pus, or any other discharge from the ear?
  • Do you feel otherwise healthy?
  • Have you tried any new products recently, such as soaps, perfumes or sprays?

What are the potential complications of ear swelling?

An ear swelling is not usually serious, but it is important to determine the underlying cause to rule out a serious infection or allergic reaction. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Mastoiditis (inflammation of the bone behind the ear)
  • Meningitis (infection or inflammation of the sac around the brain and spinal cord)
  • Recurring ear infections
  • Speech or language impairment


  1. Ear problems. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/health-tools/search-by-symptom/ear-problems.html.
  2. Ear Infections in Children. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/earinfections.

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 infecti... Read more about ear swellingintroduction


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:

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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