Swollen Ear Canal

What is Swollen Ear Canal?

Swollen ear canal occurs due to water lodging inside the ear canal and that damage the protective film layer inside the ear canal. The protective film membrane is made up of lipid layer. The damaging of the protective film membrane inside the ear causes redness and inflammation inside the ear canal. The canal of the ear becomes narrow and warmth1.

swollen ear canal pictures

Alternatively, the swollen ear canal is also known as “swimmer’s ear” , as swimmers are more frequently affected with swollen ear canal due to prolonged exposure into the water2.

Symptoms of Swollen Ear Canal

The following are considered as Symptoms of swollen ear canal:

  • Pain in ear canal
  • The degree of pain is moderate to severe depending on the severity of the infection spreading
  • Pain may be continuous or occasional
  • Feeling of heaviness inside the ear
  • Ear canal itchiness
  • The ear discharge or pus secretion secreted from the ear
  • Temporary hearing loss can develop in some cases
  • Tinnitus or ringing sound inside the ear is common
  • Tenderness and redness inside the ear
  • Vertigo (1,2,3)

Cause of Swollen Ear Canal

There are considerably various factors for the swollen ear canal. Some triggering factors also influence to worsen the swollen ear canal.

Common causes of Swollen Ear Canal

Bacterial infection

Different strains of bacteria can involve in the development of swollen ear canal, including Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosin etc.

Seborrhoeic dermatitis

In this type of skin condition, the mucous-coated area of the skin becomes swollen and irritated. Inside the ear the greasy substance is secreted and affected with seborrhoeic dermatitis, which causes inflammation of the ear canal.

A middle ear infection

The anatomical ear is divided into three region- external ear, middle ear and inner ear. Middle ear infection causes heavy secretion and blocks the ear canal.

Fungal Infection

The fungus also a causative organism for the swollen ear canal. Candida albicans and Aspergillus varieties are mainly involved in the development of the swollen ear canal.

Allergic reaction

Swollen ear canal can also develop due to an allergic reaction with soap water, shampoo, medication and even excessive sweat.
It is advisable to complete the total course of prescribed medication, even after decreasing of symptoms. The incomplete course of medicine may cause secondary infection and extends the symptoms further.

Triggering factors

The considerable triggering factors are not directly involved in the swollen ear canal, but they influence the onset of the condition.

Excessive moisture

Moisture or fluid inside the ear canal insists to the development of the infection, as moisture provides a favorable environment for bacterial or fungal growth, which causes infection. The following factors are involved in excessive moisture, such as

  • Regular or prolonged period of swimming, specifically in polluted or dirty water.
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Humid and/or hot climate
  • Entering water inside the ear canal cause removal of earwax and cause irritation

Ear damage

The inner parts of the ear are very soft and sensitive and easily become hurt through

  • Excessive cleaning
  • scratching of the ear canal
  • Plugging the ear with cotton balls
  • Prolong insertion of headphones and ear plug


Some chemicals also influence to the onset of the Swollen ear canal, if those chemicals or chemical-containing products inserted into the ears.

  • Earwax softeners
  • Hair dyes
  • Hair sprays

Underlying skin conditions

Apart from seborrhoeic dermatitis, certain underlying skin conditions may increase the risk of the Swollen ear canal. This include:

  • Psoriasis
  • Eczema
  • Acne

Allergic conditions

The vulnerable individuals who are susceptible to asthma, allergic rhinitis may increase the Swollen ear canal.

Weak immune system

Certain disease condition weakens the immune system; such as diabetes and AIDS or HIV positive individuals. Even cancer chemotherapy also weaken the immune system. This disease or condition affected patients have a tendency to develop infections, including the Swollen ear canal. (1,2,3,)


Swollen ear canal usually does not provide serious health hazards; rarely it causes a severe problem. Therefore, self-medication and/or home remedies can be useful for the Swollen ear canal.


Some medications like Acetaminophen, NSAIDs like Ibuprofen, Aspirin, Naproxen and acetaminophen can be useful to control inflammation and pain.

Home Remedies

Some of the home remedies are effective to treat Swollen ear canal; but it is important to before apply these first consult with a doctor.

  • Gentle rinsing of the ear canal with the help of taking a bulb syringe and warm saline solution or using a 1: 1 white vinegar and warm water solution.
  • OTC product such as Swim-Ear ear drops or other is available in the pharmacy store.
  • Warm cloth compression helps to control pain (1,2,3,4).


If the above mention therapies do not control the Swollen ear canal, then antibiotics or anti-fungal treatment need to prescribe according to the causative organism4.

  1. Ear Canal Problems (Swimmer’s Ear), (2014); Retrieve from: http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/ear-canal-problems-swimmers-ear-topic-overview
  2. Otitis externa; Retrieve from: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/otitis-externa/Pages/Introduction.aspx
  3. John P. Cunha (2015); Ear Infection; Retrieve from: http://www.emedicinehealth.com/wilderness_ear_infection/article_em.htm
  4. Chronic (Persistent) Otitis Externa; Retrieve from: http://patient.info/in/health/chronic-persistent-otitis-externa

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