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What Causes Swollen Ear Canal & How is it Treated?

What is Swollen Ear Canal?

The deposition of water inside the ear canal can damage the protective layer over the ear canal. This medical condition is known as swollen ear canal. This protective layer is composed of lipid. Swollen ear canal is associated with inflammation and redness inside the ear canal. The inflammation makes the ear feel warmer from inside and the canal tends to become narrow. Swollen Ear is also referred as swimmer’s ear because it is more common condition among the swimmers as they spend a lot of time inside the water.1

  • Cleaning ear frequently
  • Scratches in the inner walls of the ear.
  • Cleaning ear with the cotton balls.
  • Keeping ear plugged with headphones for long periods.

Another risk factor for swollen ear canal is usage of chemicals. There are certain chemicals that can cause infection in the ear canal. These chemicals may enter into your ear as part of some common substances that we use in our daily lives such as:

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

Underlying skin conditions can be a risk factor for swollen ear canal. There are certain skin conditions that can make you more vulnerable to infections in ear. Some of these conditions are as follows:

  • Acne.
  • Eczema.
  • Psoriasis.
  • People with certain underlying allergic conditions such as asthma and allergic rhinitis are at higher risk of developing ear infection.2
  • Weaker immunity due to certain condition like AIDS can also make you more vulnerable to ear infection. If you are undergoing chemotherapy for treatment of cancer, you are at higher risk of infections.

What is Swollen Ear Canal?

Treatment of Swollen Ear Canal

  • Swollen ear canal is not a very severe medical condition and thus, it can be treated at home with home remedies and self-medications.
  • Medications are used for swollen ear canal. Medications that can be used to treat swollen ear canal include NSAIDs such as acetaminophen, aspirin, Ibuprofen, and Naproxen.
  • Swollen ear canal can be treated at home via several home remedies, but with a proper consultation with your doctor.
  • Antibiotics are also a better option for treating swollen ear canal. Some anti-fungal or antibiotics can also be used effectively to control the infection and the symptoms of swollen ear canal.

Causes of Swollen Ear Canal

There can be several factors that may lead to the condition of the swollen ear canal. There are some factors that can cause and worsen the severity of infection causing swelling in the ear canal.

Bacterial infection can be a cause of swollen ear canal. The infection in the ear canal resulting into swollen ear canal can be caused due to bacterial infections caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosin,3 staphylococcus aureus and Klebsiella pneumoniae.4

Seborrheic dermatitis5 can also cause swollen ear canal. This is a type of skin condition in which the skin tends to become irritated due to coating of mucous over it. In the case of swollen ear canal, a greasy substance is secreted inside the ear. This covering of mucous like substance results into seborrheic dermatitis that further leads to infection.

Another cause of swollen ear canal is a middle ear infection. The internal structure of the ear is divided into three segments: external ear, middle ear and the inner ear. Any type of infection in the middle ear can block the ear canal, resulting into infection.

Fungal infection may cause swollen ear canal. Fungal infection in the ear is also a common cause of swollen ear canal. The common fungus that can lead to fungal infection are candida albicans and other varieties of aspergillus.

Another way to get swollen ear canal is by an allergic reaction. There are some substances like shampoo, soapy water, excessive sweat, certain medications etc that can cause allergic reactions leading to swollen ear canal. It is important that you go through a complete dose as prescribed by the doctor failing to which can lead to secondary infections.

Symptoms of Swollen Ear Canal

The common symptoms associated with the swollen ear canal are as follows:

  • Pain in the ear canal that can be moderate or severe depending upon the extent of the infection.
  • In few cases, the pain can be constant while it can come and go in other cases
  • There is a ringing sound in the ear.
  • The ear may feel heavy with itching in the ear canal.
  • The infection can cause the development of pus that can be seen secreting from the ear.
  • Vertigo.
  • Some people can also experience symptoms of difficulty in hearing properly.
  • The ear canal tends to become tender and red.

Risk Factors for Swollen Ear Canal

There are a few risk factors that do not necessarily cause infection, but can make you vulnerable to swollen ear canal:

Excessive moisture is a risk factor for swollen ear canal. It is always easier for bacteria and fungus to grow in the moist conditions. Thus, excessive moisture inside the ear canal provides a perfect environment for the bacterial and fungal infections. Following are the conditions that can lead to excessive moisture inside the ear canal.

  • Swimming for long time period especially in the polluted water.
  • Too much perspiration.
  • Hot and humid climatic conditions.
  • Frequent exposure to water can wash away the earwax, leading to irritation and infection.

Ear damage is yet another factor of risk for swollen ear canal. The skin of the internal ear is soft and vulnerable to cuts or damage. Various factors that can cause damage are as follows:


  1. Otitis externa.
    Hajioff D1, Mackeith S., BMJ ClinEvid. 2010 Aug 3;2010. pii: 0510.
  2. Recent trends in upper respiratory infections, ear infections and asthma among young Canadian children.
    Thomas EM1. Health Rep. 2010 Dec;21(4):47-52.
  3. Malignant external otitis: Factors predicting patient outcomes.
    Stern Shavit S1, Soudry E2, Hamzany Y2, Nageris B3., Am J Otolaryngol. 2016 Sep-Oct;37(5):425-30. doi: 10.1016/j.amjoto.2016.04.005. Epub 2016 May 6.
  4. Necrotizing external otitis in a patient caused by Klebsiella pneumoniae.
    Yang TH1, Kuo ST, Young YH., Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2006 Apr;263(4):344-6. Epub 2005 Dec 24.
  5. Management of the ear canal seborrhea with cerumen.
    Storrs LA., Laryngoscope. 1981 Aug;91(8):1231-3.

Also Read:

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 8, 2023

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