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What Can Cause a Swollen Ear Lobe?

Christina Edwards
Christina Edwards

Although the ear lobe is not believed to have any scientific purpose, a swollen ear lobe can be a painful and sometimes dangerous condition. Ear lobes often swell slightly after the ears have been pierced, especially if an person has an allergic reaction to the metal used. Pierced ears may also become infected, which usually warrants treatment of antibiotics. Insect bites and cauliflower ear are two other possible causes of a swollen ear lobe.

One of the most common causes of a swollen ear lobe is piercing. Usually, after the ears are pierced, there is minor pain, along with redness and swelling. The swelling is usually minor, and can be treated with a cold compress or anti-inflammatory drugs. If this swelling does not go down after a few days, a trip to the doctor is usually advised.

Earrings can cause a swollen ear lobe.
Earrings can cause a swollen ear lobe.

An allergic reaction to certain types of metals used in earrings may also cause a swollen ear lobe. Most people are allergic to the nickel used to manufacture inexpensive earrings. Nickel is also present in some gold and silver jewelry as well. Stainless steel earrings are usually recommended to avoid this type of allergy.

Along with swollen earlobes, an allergy after piercing can also cause a few other symptoms. The area will often be painful, for example, and it may itch. Although it does not happen in all cases involving an allergic reaction, there may be discharge from the piercing hole, or it may bleed. It is usually necessary to remove the earrings to treat a swollen ear lobe.

Applying a cold compress to the ear lobe will help reduce swelling and alleviate pain.
Applying a cold compress to the ear lobe will help reduce swelling and alleviate pain.

If removing the earrings does not help, an infection may be the cause of a swollen ear lobe. Drainage, such as pus, will also usually be observed coming from an infected piercing. Medical treatment and antibiotics are usually necessary to clear up this type of infection.

A swollen ear lobe can also be caused by an insect bite. Along with being swollen, the ear lobe will also usually be red and itchy. An over-the-counter antihistamine is usually all that is needed to treat insect bite or sting symptoms. Immediate medical attention is usually required, however, if the swelling moves to the face or throat. This usually indicates a serious allergic reaction.

Allergies are one possible cause of a swollen ear lobe.
Allergies are one possible cause of a swollen ear lobe.

A condition known as cauliflower ear, or hematoma auris, may also cause a slightly swollen ear lobe. This occurs after a blow to the ear results in fluid building up under the skin, and it is a common malady seen in boxers and wrestlers. If this fluid is not drained in time, it could result in a deformation of the outer ear.

3 Ways to Avoid Swollen Ear Lobes

While there is no definitive way to avoid swollen ear lobes completely, there are some practical ways to prevent it. Following these 3 steps can help a person maintain proper ear for the foreseeable future.

Always Sterilize Piercing Equipment

Sterilizing equipment will ensure no harmful germs or pathogens on the metal going through an ear. It is a quick process that will save someone much pain and time later. 

The most common sterilization practice used by tattoo parlors and piercing shops is placing their tools in an Autoclave. Autoclaves are machines that use pressurized steam to destroy all microorganisms and bacteria on metal surfaces.

Insect bites can cause a swollen ear lobe.
Insect bites can cause a swollen ear lobe.

Shop owners start this process by cleaning their tools and placing them in little autoclave pouches that they put inside the machine. Unfortunately, Autoclaves are not the most cost-efficient way of keeping equipment clean, but they are the most effective.

If an Autoclave is unavailable, place a piercing tool in boiling water to kill a good percentage of the microorganisms. Note that this method is not 100% effective. 

Use Bug Spray

With bugs being a potential cause for swollen ear lobes, it may be a good idea to invest in bug spray for outdoor events. Insect repellent can keep almost 100% of the bugs away when outdoors.

Experts say it is best to look for bug spray with at least 20% of the active ingredient to be effective. However, depending on what the active ingredient is, that number can range from 5%-30%

It is best to use bug spray during any outdoor event, such as: 

  • Concerts, 
  • BBQs
  • Outdoor weddings
  • Swimming pools
  • Hiking
  • Camping

Since most outdoor events happen in the summer, bugs will reproduce more often due to rising temperatures.

Wear a Headgear

Cauliflower ear in sports may seem unavoidable, especially when an athlete gets to high-level competition. 

Wearing headgear is standard in high school wrestling competitions. When someone joins an elite college or even Olympic wrestling or boxing program, they often forgo the headpiece due to pressure.

Try always to wear headgear whenever possible as it will absorb most of the shock that goes towards the ears. They are an inexpensive way to protect wrestlers, boxers, and rugby players from getting cauliflower ear during their careers.

Another good practice is always to know one's body so that they do not put any metals they are allergic to inside their ear.

How to Treat a Swollen Earlobe

Once ears flare up because of germs, bugs, or athletics, there is a way to treat them. Minor infections or small bug bites that cause swollen ear lobes are easily treatable at home. 

It is worth noting that if someone experiences significant ear swelling and pus, they should immediately see a doctor to either drain it or prescribe antibiotics. Home remedies should not take the place of immediate medical attention if it is needed.

Piercing is one of the most common causes of ear lobe swelling.
Piercing is one of the most common causes of ear lobe swelling.

With that said, the less severe reactions people experience with piercings or bug bites have home treatments like cold compresses and sterile saline. Medical journals advise people to wash their hands before touching the infection because they need to keep the “wound” clean.

People suffering from pain due to swollen ear lobes can also rely on over-the-counter medication to mitigate stress. Common pills like Advil, Tylenol, and Aleve are helpful treatments to help during pain flare-ups.

A great way to control the swelling around the ear is to place a cold compress on it to decrease blood flow. Lowering blood circulation will, in turn, reduce the swelling over time, giving relief quickly.

How Long it Will Take Swollen Earlobes to Go Down

On average, it'll typically take 1-2 weeks for swollen ears to revert to normal, assuming it is not an acute infection and the sufferer follows medical protocol. 

That means they are consistently icing their ears, cleaning them with saline solutions, and using bandages if necessary. Keeping earlobes dry is another important task for someone suffering from the ailment.

If earlobes get infected, then it is time to see a doctor so they can prescribe oral antibacterial medicine. Common signs of infection are hearing loss, inflamed ears, and a substantial pus build-up.

Medical specialists say that if swollen ear lobes reach this stage, recovery time lengthens to about 2 months. 

Discussion Comments


I have my ears stretched to about an inch, but I have had them naked for a while. I just found a little lump on my neck the night before and now my ear lobe is very swollen! I hope to God it's a bug bite, but I'm shaking in my boots!


I did. I woke up with a crusty earlobe and haven't worn earrings in decades. Yuck! My lobes were red and swollen and the skin is sloughing off. Yuck! So I dipped my lobe in peroxide and am going to ice it tonight. The redness has not continued to beyond the lobe so it's localized for now. I'll ice it and put neosporin on it. If it doesn't get better after a couple of days, then to the doctor I go.


I have a swollen lump in my ear lobe. I used to smoke marijuana and I have had the lump for three years now with no increase or side effects to the lump. I want it removed. Please suggest a cause and treatment for me.


@eidetic - You would think most people would run, not walk, to the doctor if their ear started to swell. However, I've found that some people like to "wait and see" instead of go to the doctor.

When I was in high school, a good friend of mine was on the wrestling team. His ear got really swollen, but he had a weird aversion to doctors and didn't want to go. After a few days, his parents noticed what was going on and made him go. It was almost too late, according to the doctor. If they'd waited any longer, his ear would have been permanently deformed.


Cauliflower ear sounds really scary, especially because your ear could be permanently deformed if you don't get it drained! I hope most peoples first impulse is to go to the doctor when their ear swells up like that.


@Pharoah - I don't think it would be that hard to figure out if you have a bug bite on your ear. A bug bite feels much different than an infected piercing!

Plus, you can kind of rule out infection or irritation of a piercing by process of elimination. Most piercings don't get infected after they heal, so unless you had your ear pierced recently, that's probably not going to be the problem. And if you haven't bought new earrings recently, that's probably not the problem either!


@lighth0se33 - That doesn't sound pleasant at all! I think a bug bite is the most confusing cause of a swollen ear lobe, because the bug bite could occur anywhere, and just happens to occur on the ear. So you might think you have a problem with your ear, but really, it's just a bug bite.


I had problems with my ear lobes right after I had them pierced. I tried to ignore them, because I had wanted pierced ears so badly, but after about a week of dealing with my ear lobes swollen and itching, I had to give up.

Pus had begun to leak from around the posts. Taking the earrings out hurt so much, because the area had become exceedingly tender.

I had to go get antibiotics from my doctor. She told me that I probably never would be able to wear earrings, and I shouldn't try piercing them again once they healed.


I woke up with a lump behind my ear and a swollen ear lobe during a camping trip. The area was red and enlarged.

Since I also had several similar bumps on my face and neck, I figured out that mosquitoes had gotten in the tent during the night. Luckily, I had brought along some calamine lotion.

It dried up the bumps, and this reduced the swelling a little. It also took away most of the itchiness. This was good, because if I had continued to scratch the bumps, they would have swollen even more.


@wavy58 – I do use an antibiotic ointment when I have outer ear infection symptoms. This ointment usually makes the swelling and itching in my lobes stop before it can get any worse.

Certain earrings make my ear lobes itch and swell. I have had to throw away several pairs because they made the inside of my ear lobes itch so badly.

When I'm wearing earrings and I start to feel this sensation, I remove them and reach for the antibiotic ointment. I dip the post of another earring into the ointment and slide it through the hole in my lobe. That's a good way to ensure that the ointment gets delivered to the inside.


I have dealt with several inner ear infections in my life, but I have never had any problems with my outer ear. I imagine that having a swollen ear lobe would be a bit scary, especially if you didn't know the cause.

If someone has just gotten their ears pierced and has developed a swollen ear lobe, then the cause would be obvious. However, if someone just woke up one day with swollen lobes, they would wonder what happened to them during the night!

Inner ear infections can be treated with antibiotic ear drops. I'm guessing that ear lobe infections would require the use of an antibiotic cream, since you could apply it directly to the area.

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    • Earrings can cause a swollen ear lobe.
      Earrings can cause a swollen ear lobe.
    • Applying a cold compress to the ear lobe will help reduce swelling and alleviate pain.
      By: pixelrobot
      Applying a cold compress to the ear lobe will help reduce swelling and alleviate pain.
    • Allergies are one possible cause of a swollen ear lobe.
      By: Den
      Allergies are one possible cause of a swollen ear lobe.
    • Insect bites can cause a swollen ear lobe.
      By: teptong
      Insect bites can cause a swollen ear lobe.
    • Piercing is one of the most common causes of ear lobe swelling.
      By: Fly_dragonfly
      Piercing is one of the most common causes of ear lobe swelling.