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Swollen Ear Canal: Common Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Last updated: Dec 18, 2022 Post in Family Practice in Brooklyn by Century Medical & Dental Clinic.

Swollen ear canal can be very painful if you leave it untreated or fail to get effective treatment for your symptoms. Pain, itchiness, and discharge from the ear are warning signs that you should not ignore. Visit expert otolaryngology doctors at the Century Medical and Dental Center to have your ear, nose, and throat carefully examined to figure out the main cause behind the ear infection. Proper diagnosis and timely treatment can help to prevent complications, loss of hearing and infection spreading to other areas of the head.

Swollen Ear Canal
Swollen Ear Canal

An ear infection is mostly caused by a viral or bacterial infection in the middle ear. The middle ear is the air-filled area behind the eardrum, which contains the very small vibrating bones of the ear. Ear infections also result from a buildup of fluids and inflammation in the middle ear. Children suffer from ear infections and inflammation more than adults.

The accumulation of fluid inside the ear canal can damage the ear canal’s protective layer. This condition is known as the swollen ear canal and is associated with redness and inflammation inside the ear. The protective layer is made up of fat or wax, which prevents the ear from harm.

The inflammation inside the canal makes the ear feel warmer on the side and narrows the canal. It is also known as the swimmer’s ear, as many swimmers go through this condition after spending a lot of time in the water.

Causes Behind a Swollen Ear Canal

Some common causes of a swollen and painful ear canal include:

  • Lifestyle factors;
  • You clean your ears too frequently;
  • You use headphones that keep your ears blocked for a long time;
  • You use cotton balls to clean ears;
  • You put things in your ears such as cap pens, hairpins, or fingers;
  • You use hearing aids that trap moisture in the ear canals;
  • You have scratches on the inner wall of the ears.

Use of chemicals

Using chemicals increase the risk of a swollen ear canal. Certain chemicals can lead to ear canal infection. Chemicals can get into the ear through common substances that include:

  • Hair dyes;
  • Hair sprays;
  • Earwax softeners.

Skin Conditions

Underlying skin conditions are often a risk factor for the swollen ear canal. They increase your chances of developing ear infections. They include:

  • Eczema;
  • Acne;
  • Psoriasis.

Seborrheic dermatitis can also result in ear infections. It is a condition in which the skin becomes irritated due to a coat of mucous. A greasy substance secretes inside the ear in case of a swollen ear canal, and the mucous covering leads to seborrheic dermatitis, resulting in infection.

Underlying allergic conditions that cause swollen ear canal

Some underlying allergic conditions that can cause swollen ear canal include:

  • Allergic rhinitis;
  • Asthma.

These conditions increase the risk of ear infections. An allergic reaction can also cause swollen ear canals in hypersensitive people. Excessive sweat, shampoo, certain medications, and soapy water can also lead to an allergic reaction that can aggravate the situation.

Weak immune system

Certain health conditions like AIDS or cancer can weaken your immune system and leave you vulnerable to ear infections. Also, if you are undergoing chemotherapy, you are at a higher risk of developing ear infections.

Fungal infections

Fungal infections are a leading cause of swollen ear canals. Millions of people suffer from ear infections due to this reason only. Candida albicans and different types of Aspergillus are the common fungi that lead to fungal infection.

Narrowed ear canals

Some people have narrow ear canals naturals. In such cases, moisture drainage becomes more difficult. When water remains trapped in the canal for some time, it can result in bacterial growth and infection that becomes painful.

Swollen Ear Canal Symptoms

Whether your swollen ear canal is resulting from some skin condition or a dive in the pool, the symptoms remain the same. They include:

  • Mild to severe pain in the ear;
  • Itching sensation in the ear;
  • Fluid drainage from the ear;
  • Pain in the ear when you move your head or pull the earlobe;
  • Yellowish, bad-smelling discharge from the ear;
  • Tenderness and sensitivity to touch;
  • Muffled sounds inside of loud and clear noise.

Ear swelling may be followed by other symptoms such as:

  • Crusting or flaking skin;
  • Rash;
  • Redness and warmth;
  • Headache;
  • Fever and chills;
  • Runny nose.

If you are experiencing signs of an ear infection, call your doctor to prevent it from turning more painful. Severe pain, ringing in the ears, or feelings of dizziness indicates a more severe problem that must be evaluated at the clinic. Ear infections or swollen canals should not be left untreated as they could result in loss of hearing if you are not careful. The doctor will carefully check your ear canal for infection and recommend the best treatment for quick relief.
Swollen Ear Canal

What Complications Can Result From Frequent Infections and Fluid Buildup?

It is important to note that frequent infections and fluid buildup in the ear can lead to complications, even though they are rare occurrences. The persistently swollen ear canal and infection can result in serious complications such as:

Developmental or speech delays

Ear infections can affect hearing impairment, temporary or permanent. Toddlers and infants with swollen ear canals or ear infections can go through development, social and speech delays.

Impaired hearing

Ear infections are not good for hearing and result in mild hearing loss that comes and goes with the problem. Long-term or persistent infection or buildup of fluid in the middle ear can cause a more substantial hearing loss. If the eardrum or middle ear structure gets damaged, it could lead to impaired hearing or permanent hearing loss.

Tear in the eardrum

Some ear infections can end up damaging the eardrum or tearing them. Mostly these tears can heal within 72 hours, but some may require surgical repair.

Spread of infection

Untreated infections or infections that do not respond to treatments can spread to neighboring tissues. Infection of the mastoid, the bony protrusion behind the ear is known as mastoiditis, and it can damage the bone and lead to pus-filled cysts. In some cases, severe middle ear infections can make their way to other skull tissues like brain membranes (meningitis) or the brain if they are not properly addressed.

Treatment Options for Swollen Ear Canal

Treatment of the swollen ear canal primarily depends on the cause of the inflammation and infection. Your doctor may recommend the following treatment options to provide relief:

Drainage and cleaning

With the help of a small device or suction, the doctor will clear away the earwax, debris, or extra skin from the canal and drain water. This is an important step as it can help the prescription antibiotic eardrops move through the infection areas easily. Depending on the extent of swelling or blockage, the doctor may also insert gauze or cotton in the ear to drain the excess moisture.

Medication and eardrops

Sometimes ear infections go away without any specific treatment. Doctors usually recommend medication and eardrops to treat the swelling and pain in your ears. Ear infections caused by viral infections cannot be treated by antibiotics as antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections.

Eardrops are prescribed to treat fungal and bacterial infections and heal the ears. These drops help to restore the pH balance of the ears and reduce inflammation.

Not all swollen ear canals are caused by infections. If your swollen ear symptoms are resulting from environmental causes such as a sensitivity reaction or an insect bite, doctors recommend medication to soothe the inflammatory reaction causing the swelling.

Steps to Preventing Swollen Ear Canal

The most significant step for preventing swollen ear canal is avoiding using cotton swabs for keeping the ears dry. Excessive moisture could be the culprit for people who are frequently in the water.

Swimmers, lifeguards, and other professionals must put alcohol drops in their ear canals to evaporate the moisture after getting out of water. Drying the ear canals with a hairdryer can also help to keep the ears moisture-free.

Schedule an appointment with an experienced and board-certified ear, nose, and throat physicians at the Century Medical and Dental Center for accurate evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of swollen ear canal. The best otolaryngologist in NY will narrow down the possibilities of what is causing your ear infection and recommend the best treatment options to provide lasting relief. Learning to recognize the symptoms and when you need to take special care of yourself can help to manage your condition better.

SHARE THIS POST Page Updated on Dec 18, 2022 by Dr. Dvorkina (Primary Care Doctor) of Century Medical & Dental Center
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