If you have a bump in or around your ear, chances are it’s either a pimple or a boil. Either one can be painful and cosmetically displeasing.
If you think you may have a boil in or around your ear, learn more about how it’s diagnosed and treated, and what may have caused it.
If you have a painful bump in, on, or around your ear, it may be a boil. Boils appear as reddish, hard lumps in the skin. They are more likely to appear in places where you have hair and sweat.
You might be thinking that you don’t have hair inside your ear canal, but you definitely do. The hair in your ear is in place, along with earwax, to keep debris and dirt from getting to your eardrum.
Because it’s virtually impossible for you to visually inspect the area in and even around your ear, it can be difficult to tell a boil from a pimple. Typically, if the bump gets larger than a pea and becomes fluctuant (that is, compressible due to fluid inside), it’s most likely not a pimple.
If you are able to see the bump either by looking in the mirror, taking a photo, or having a trusted individual take a look for you, you can check to see if the bump is larger, pinkish red, and possibly has a white or yellow center. If a lesion like this is present, it’s probably a boil.
You should never pick at or attempt to pop, puncture, or cut open a boil. A boil typically contains bacterial infection that may spread and result in further infection or more boils.
Sometimes boils heal on their own and don’t need medical treatment. To help your boil open and drain:
- keep the area clean and free of additional irritants
- use warm compresses on the boil several times a day
- don’t attempt to squeeze or cut the boil
If you use a warm compress over your inside ear, make sure that it’s made out of medical cloth that’s clean. Also, make sure the cloth is fairly dry as you don’t want to provide an environment for swimmer’s ear to occur.
If the ear boil doesn’t heal on its own in two weeks, it will need medical attention.
Your doctor will likely perform minor surgery on the boil by making a small cut through the surface of the boil to drain out the pus that built up inside. Your doctor may also give you antibiotics to help the infection.
You should seek medical treatment for a boil if:
- your boil is recurrent
- your boil doesn’t go away after a couple of weeks
- you have a fever or nausea
- the boil is extremely painful
Don’t attempt to scratch or touch the boil inside your ear with tweezers, fingers, cotton swabs, or any other objects. The ear canal is sensitive and can be easily scratched, which could lead to further infection.
Boils are relatively common. They are caused by bacteria that fester underneath your skin near a hair follicle. Most often, the bacterium is a Staphylococcus species, such as Staphylococcus aureus, but boils can be caused by other types of bacteria or fungi as well.
The infection occurs within the hair follicle. Pus and dead tissue builds up deeper in the follicle and pushes towards the surface, which causes the bump that you can see or feel.
Other areas that have hair and frequent perspiration are more likely to be affected by boils such as:
You can try to prevent boils from occurring in and around your ears by washing your ears gently when you shower or bathe.
Your ear boil may heal on its own. Be sure to keep it clean and refrain from attempting to pick or pop the boil.
If your boil causes extreme pain, is accompanied by other symptoms, or doesn’t go away in two weeks, have your doctor examine your boil and recommend treatment.