Why Are My Ears Red?

Medically reviewed by Suzanne Falck, MD on June 12, 2017Written by Natalie Silver

Should you be worried about red ears?

Red ears can be caused by many different conditions, but they’re often harmless. You should review your symptoms and decide if you need to see your doctor.

What are the potential causes of red ears?

There are many potential causes of red ears, including the following:

Sunburn

Your red ear may be the result of a sunburn. This occurs when your ear is exposed to too much sun without any protection. You may also experience warmth, pain, tenderness, and other symptoms for up to a week. Covering the ears with sunscreen and brimmed hats can prevent sunburn.

Flushing

Red ears may be the result of your body flushing or blushing. Flushing also results in warm and burning skin. A main cause of flushing is an emotional reaction, resulting in your blood vessels opening wider in certain areas because of a signal in the nervous system. Other triggers include hormones, food, alcohol, medications, exercise, changes in temperature, and medical conditions.

Bacterial infection

A skin infection like cellulitis or erysipelas could result in red ears. You may also experience ears that are warm, swollen, and irritated. Erysipelas may include blistering or a raised border around the irritated area.

Symptoms beyond the skin include fever, shivers, chills, and swollen lymph nodes. These conditions are caused by bacteria that enters the skin when something breaks it, such as an injury, bug bite, ear piercing, or another medical condition.

Seborrhoeic dermatitis

Your ears may become red because of seborrheic dermatitis. This condition affects 2 to 5 percent of the population. It causes the skin to become red, itchy, and flaky. It may affect the back of your outer ear or even toward the inner ear, such as in the cup of the ear and the ear canals.

Relapsing polychondritis

This affects cartilage and may be caused by your immune system. The first symptoms you may notice are red and tender ears. It can spread to the other parts of your ear and may last days or weeks. You may notice problems in your inner ear as well. A long-term outcome of the condition can be loss of hearing. It may also spread to other parts of your body, so it’s essential to see your doctor.

Perichondritis

Perichondritis is an infection of the tissue that wraps around the ear’s cartilage. It may be caused by ear piercing, injury to the ear, insect bites, or even surgery. Your ear will be swollen, red, and tender near the cartilage. See your doctor right away, as the condition can get worse by spreading to the cartilage and damaging it in the long term.

Red ear syndrome

Red ear syndrome is rare. Symptoms include episodes of redness and burning, particularly in the ear lobe. These symptoms may last momentarily or for hours. Triggers include touching your ears, exposure to extreme temperatures, or exercise, among others. This syndrome may result in migraines and other medical conditions.

How is red ear treated?

Treatments for red ear depend on the cause.

To treat sunburn

There are many ways to relieve sunburn symptoms at home. Treatments include keeping the ears cool, using aloe vera products or over-the-counter treatments like hydrocortisone, and avoiding additional sun exposure.

See a doctor if the sunburn doesn’t heal on its own after a few days, if the symptoms become worse, or if you develop other symptoms unrelated to the sunburn site.

To treat flushing

Often, flushing doesn’t require medical treatment. Seek treatment if you suspect a medical condition is the cause.

To treat cellulitis or erysipelas

A doctor can diagnose these skin conditions with a physical exam and tests. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. These infections will likely heal after a week or so of treatment. In the meantime, you can calm the inflamed area by applying cold compresses.

To treat seborrhoeic dermatitis

Seborrhoeic dermatitis can’t be cured, but it can be managed with ointments and specialized shampoos. Your doctor may prescribe ear drops if the condition is also in your inner ear.

To treat relapsing polychondritis

Your doctor may treat this condition with corticosteroids and pain relievers like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). More advanced cases of the condition may require higher-level medications that target the immune system or surgery.

To treat perichondritis

Your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics for your infection. The infection may also cause an abscess on your ear. This requires interventions like draining. If the condition is caused by ear piercing, you’ll have to remove the earring.

To treat red ear syndrome

There isn’t a straightforward treatment approach to red ear syndrome. There are some medications that your doctor may prescribe. NSAIDs and cold compresses may relieve symptoms.

What is the outlook for red ears?

Red ears may be a symptom of several conditions. If you suspect the condition is beyond a minor sunburn or flushing, contact your doctor. The condition may require a medical diagnosis and treatment.

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