Pimple in Ear: How It Happens and How to Treat It

Medically reviewed by Suzanne Falck, MD on November 7, 2016Written by Elizabeth Connor on November 7, 2016

Is this normal?

Acne is generally seen as an adolescent issue. But it’s also common across all age groups. Between 40 to 50 million Americans have acne at a given time. It’s the most common skin condition in the United States. Pimples can form anywhere, though they affect the areas with the most oil glands. This includes your face and your back.

It isn’t uncommon for pimples to form inside of your ear. And pimples in your ear can usually be treated at home without guidance from your doctor.

Learn more about what causes these pimples to form in your ear and how to make them go away.

What causes a pimple to form in the ear?

Acne is a broad term that describes a variety of skin conditions. It refers to everything from whiteheads and blackheads to cysts and nodules.

A whitehead occurs when oil, or sebum, clogs a pore. A blackhead occurs when sebum is exposed to air and turns dark. The sac under the skin can break, become irritated, or even infected to form cysts and nodules.

Acne in its various forms can appear in your ear, like in the auricle and the external ear canal. The skin of the outer ear covers cartilage and a small amount of fat. The skin of the ear canal has hair cells, as well as glands that produce oil and ear wax.

If these glands produce too much oil, it may cause acne to form in your ear. This can also happen when dead skin cells or bacteria build up in your pores. When these things happen, you may develop a pimple in the affected area. A pimple will form in your ear if the oil is unable to escape or bacteria grows in a clogged pore.

A build-up in bacteria can be caused by a few things, like using ear buds or headphones that aren’t cleaned often, or sticking your finger in your ear.

Other causes of acne include:

  • stress
  • a hormonal imbalance
  • an allergic reaction to hair products, cosmetics, or fabrics

The same things that cause acne elsewhere on the body can also cause pimples in the ear. But due to the sensitive nature of the ear, acne in this location has to be treated with care.

Is it safe to pop a pimple that’s formed in my ear?

Although it may be tempting to pop or squeeze the pimple, you should avoid this at all costs. This may get rid of the blemish, or it could get much worse.

Squeezing the pimple can force bacteria and pus deeper into your pores. This may cause the area to become more irritated and inflamed. If you do squeeze the pimple and pus comes out, the area will scab. This trauma may encourage a scar to develop.

If the pimple becomes infected, it can become a boil. This can happen on its own. It can also happen because of trauma to the area through picking, poking, and squeezing. These pus-filled bumps are generally painful and can often be treated with the same methods as pimples.

How are pimples in the ear typically treated?

For existing spots, you can try a warm compress to loosen and soften any pimples. The heat may help bring the pus to the surface and allow it drain out on its own. If this happens, be sure to clean up the liquid quickly, but cautiously. You don’t want to irritate the affected area any further, and you don’t want the bacteria to spread. Be sure to wash the area thoroughly.

If you have persistent or painful breakouts, you should consult your doctor. They will assess your acne and give it a “grade”: mild, moderate, moderate to severe, and severe. Your doctor will recommend a treatment plan best suited to your needs. Your treatment may include:

  • Topicals: Topical medications derived from vitamin A are available over-the-counter (OTC) and by prescription. Tretinoin is the most common prescription option.
  • Benzoyl peroxide: A variety of OTC benzoyl peroxide compounds are available. For moderate acne, use a solution that’s at least 5 percent benzoyl peroxide. You shouldn’t use these solutions near an open wound or mucus membrane, like inside your nose or mouth.
  • Antibiotics: Your doctor may recommend an antibiotic such as minocycline and doxycycline to treat bacteria associated with acne. But there is a growing concern about antibiotic resistance and antibiotic therapy. It’s less popular than it was in the past.
  • Systemic drugs: Systemic drugs derived from vitamin A, such as isotretinoin, are usually reserved for severe cases of cystic acne. They’re effective, but they’ve been linked to extensive side effects.

Acne lesions, particularly severe acne, can be painful. Appropriate and prompt treatment can begin with nonsteroidal medications like ibuprofen or naproxen. Your doctor may also recommend prescription drugs if these options aren’t effective.

The various treatments for acne can have complicated and serious interactions. For example, antibiotics can lower the effectiveness of female oral contraceptives. Sensitivity to the sun is more likely with some antibiotics, vitamin A compounds, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Check out: How birth control affects acne »

What else could this be?

It’s easy for a lesion on the ear to remain tucked away or out of sight for an extended period of time. Acne can appear anywhere. But it’s possible that the bump in or on your ear is the result of another condition.

Possible conditions include:

  • keloid, which are red or purple nodules often associated with small excisions
  • seborrheic keratosis, which appears as a flat, light brown lesion
  • sebaceous cyst, which are small, slow-growing bumps beneath the skin
  • granuloma fissuratum, or tender, red patches of skin, usually caused by wearing glasses

It’s important to seek medical attention if the bump or surrounding area is painful, irritated, or persistent.

Lesions that aren’t susceptible to typical acne treatments may not be acne and should be seen by a doctor. In a study of people who presented to a doctor with conditions of the ear, infections, psoriasis, and herpes zoster were the most common diagnoses. Acne was rare, accounting for about 1 percent of the diagnoses.

Outlook

Acne treatments can take anywhere from several weeks to several months to produce noticeable differences. Researchers recently looked at what treatments were most likely to maintain successful acne therapy. The treatment regimens most likely to help clear skin and keep further breakouts at bay were topical and systemic drugs, followed by topical treatments.

Tips for prevention

Although acne can be unpredictable, there are a few things that you can do to reduce your chances of breaking out.

It’s important to keep your face, neck, and ears clear of excess oil and grime that can clog pores. Instead of using conventional soap, opt for a pH-balancing cleanser. Scrubbing can also irritate your skin. Be sure to wash gently and pat dry instead of pulling at the skin.

Cleaning earbuds and headsets regularly may also help prevent future breakouts.

Keep reading: Can honey and cinnamon treat acne? »

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