A swollen earlobe can be red, uncomfortable, and painful. The typical causes of earlobe swelling are infection, allergies, and trauma. While most earlobe injuries can be treated with over-the-counter medications and home remedies, you might want to see your doctor if your symptoms are really severe.

There are a number of causes for swollen earlobes. Each has its own set of symptoms.

Piercing

This is the most common cause of a swollen earlobe for most people. A certain amount of pain and swelling is normal at the time of piercing, which should go away in a matter of days.

Swelling may also be due to piercing rejection or an infected piercing. If the swelling and pain persist, it may be necessary to go see your doctor.

For people who use gauges, going up a gauge can cause similar symptoms.

Allergic reaction

Allergic reactions, especially to certain kinds of jewelry, can cause one or both earlobes to swell. In most allergic reactions, the nickel in earrings can cause inflammation and swelling. Removing the earrings and choosing to wear those that don’t contain nickel can help with any remaining symptoms.

Injury

Any injury to the earlobe can cause swelling — even an injury as minor as wearing earrings that are too tight. Along with swelling, injured earlobes may be painful and sore.

Hematoma auris

Hematoma auris, also known as cauliflower ear, is an external deformation of the ear. It can occur after an injury to the ear. It’s most commonly developed in contact sports such as wrestling, boxing, and martial arts.

Hematoma auris occurs when blood collects in the outer ear. When the injury isn’t drained properly, it can result in infection and deformity. In addition to swelling, there may be bruising and pain.

Mastoiditis

Mastoiditis is an infection of the mastoid bone, located in the inner ear. The mastoid bone is structurally unlike other bones in the body. It’s made of air sacs and looks like a sponge.

Symptoms of mastoiditis, aside from redness and swelling, include:

  • drainage from the affected ear
  • pain
  • fever
  • headache
  • loss of hearing

Infection

It’s also possible to get an outer ear infection, known as otitis externa or swimmer’s ear. These infections are most common in children ages 7 to 12 and people who swim often. The main symptoms of an outer ear infection other than swelling are:

  • pain
  • itchiness
  • redness
  • tenderness

Bug bite

An insect bite on the earlobe can result in both swelling and itchiness. If you wake up with a swollen and itchy earlobe, it’s possible you’re being bitten at night by bed bugs or other insects. First aid will depend on the type of insect that bit you.

Abscess

An abscess is a bump that occurs under or on the skin’s surface, signaling a collection of pus or fluid in a concentrated area. Typically, this is the result of a bacterial infection.

Because skin abscesses can appear on any part of the body, it’s possible to develop an abscess on the earlobe as well. The swelling that results from an abscess can increase over time, so it’s possible your earlobe will continue to swell if the abscess isn’t treated.

Depending on the cause of the abscess, you may also experience:

  • fever
  • nausea
  • chills
  • lesions
  • inflammation
  • fluid drainage from the infected area

Carbuncles and boils

A carbuncle is a grouping of boils. They’re both a skin infection that develops deep beneath the skin’s surface that can be filled with pus. The infection involves the hair follicles, and is often painful to the touch. A carbuncle’s size can vary.

Other symptoms may include:

  • itching
  • body aches
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • crusting or oozing of the affected area

Cyst

Cysts of the skin are known as sebaceous cysts. They’re simply abnormalities of the skin that are filled with liquid or semiliquid material.

While not life-threatening, cysts can be uncomfortable. Because sebaceous cysts are most commonly found on the scalp, face, neck, and back, it’s not uncommon to find one on your earlobe. The bigger the cyst, the more likely that it’s painful.

Contact dermatitis

When a substance reacts with your skin, you can develop contact dermatitis. Besides swelling, you can experience itchiness, redness, and inflammation. These treatments may be helpful for contact dermatitis.

Poison oak, ivy, or sumac

Exposure to the leaves or stems of western poison oak, poison ivy, or poison sumac can result in an allergic reaction, causing a rash on the skin where it touched the plant. These plants release an oil when damaged that irritate the skin, leading to stinging, itching, and minor irritation. After some time, a red rash will develop and spread, growing itchier. Finally, bumps will form and turn into blisters that ooze before drying and crusting up.

If your earlobe is exposed to these plants, it’s possible that you’ll see swelling in this area, along with other symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Rash

A rash is a noticeable change in the condition or texture of your skin. It can be caused by a number of different factors, including:

If you develop a rash on your earlobe, additional symptoms will depend on what exactly is causing the rash.

Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a fairly common bacterial skin infection. It’s usually painful and appears as a red and swollen area that’s hot to the touch. Because it can occur anywhere on your body or face, it’s possible to develop cellulitis on your earlobes. Additional symptoms include tenderness, rash, and fever.

Cellulitis can develop into a more serious condition. Contact your doctor immediately if you suspect you may have it.

There are a number of ways to treat swollen earlobes, but treatment will depend on the cause of the swelling.

First, you can try a few home remedies to bring down the swelling. A cold compress can decrease blood flow to the area, which can ease swelling symptoms. If you suspect you have a cyst on your earlobe, a warm compress can help. If your earlobe is painful, over-the-counter pain medication can also be helpful.

In the case of bacterial infections, you’ll need antibiotics. These can be taken either orally or applied topically.

For bug bites and other allergic reactions, you may want to try antihistamines or hydrocortisone topical cream.

In many cases, swollen earlobes can be taken care of with simple home remedies. However, in certain cases, it’s important to seek out help from your doctor. If home remedies don’t reduce the swelling of the earlobe and other symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor.

Additionally, if your earlobe is oozing greenish or yellowish pus, or if you’ve having a serious allergic reaction, contact your doctor. In the case of some cysts or abscesses, a doctor may need to drain the site. You’ll also need a doctor to prescribe you antibiotics if you’re experiencing a bacterial infection.

To prevent a swollen earlobe, make sure to stay clear of things that can trigger allergic reactions and rashes. For example, avoid earrings containing nickel if you’ve had allergic reactions to this material in the past. It can also help to keep your ears clean. Use a cotton swab or damp washcloth only on the outside of the ear to clean it.

A swollen earlobe can be indicative of many different health issues, so it’s important to pay attention to how it develops. Most of the time, it’s easy enough to treat at home, without a doctor’s help.

However, contact your doctor if the swelling doesn’t go down over time, home remedies fail to work, or if you suspect it’s a sign of something more serious.