Ear Boil – Symptoms, Causes, and Management

Pus-filled painful bumps in or around the ear are called ear boils or furuncles. These develop in response to infection in an oil gland or hair follicle, which leads to the accumulation of pus under the skin resulting in a hard lump.

Symptoms of an ear boil

A boil can cause severe discomfort and pain. Other symptoms that accompany include:

  • Severe pain in the ear
  • Pain radiating to the jaw or head on the same side
  • Itching around the boil
  • Redness and swelling around the region
  • Flaky skin on the top of the boil
  • Pus draining from the boil
  • Painful, hard lump upon touch
  • Fever
  • Temporary hearing loss due to blockage in the ear canal

Causes of an ear boil

Boils develop due to bacterial infection in the hair follicle or oil gland. The most common causative agent is Staphylococcus Aureus. Infection occurs when there is a discontinuity in the surface of the skin, allowing bacterial entry to the follicle or sebum gland. This can happen due to several reasons, some of them being:

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  • Trauma to the skin
  • Use of contaminated earbuds or headphones
  • Swimming in contaminated water
  • Infection after an ear piercing
  • Poor hygiene
  • Sharing earbuds or earphones with someone who has an ongoing bacterial infection

Complications of an ear boil

If left untreated, an ear boil can complicate into following conditions:

  • Carbuncle formation
  • Abscess formation
  • Cellulitis
  • Sepsis

Difference between a boil and pimple or carbuncles

  • A boil is a bacterial infection of a hair follicle or sebum gland due to damage to the skin. This results in the formation of pus filled, hard to touch, and painful lumps under the skin.
  • A pimple, however, results due to the build-up of dead skin cells, bacteria, and excessive oil production. This is smaller in size than a boil.
  • A carbuncle develops when boils are left untreated. The infection spreads to form a cluster of boils which is then called a carbuncle.
Difference between a boil and pimple or carbuncles

Prevention

A boil can easily be prevented by taking a few safety measures:

  • Keep your ear canal dry and clean
  • Avoid sharing earbuds or earphones and clean them regularly
  • Do not share towels and other personal hygiene items
  • In case of any injury to the skin apply an antiseptic
  • Ensure aseptic measures after an ear piercing
  • Use a cleanser with PH balance

Management of an ear boil

Although painful, an ear boil can be managed easily. Most of the time, the infection subsides itself but it is safe to consult a doctor to rule out other possible conditions.

Diagnosis

A detailed history of the symptoms and their severity followed by an examination can help formulate a diagnosis. For further evaluation, some investigations can be performed, including:

  • Blood complete picture
  • Culture and sensitivity to determine the causative organism

Treatment

Your doctor will suggest a treatment option depending upon the severity of your symptoms.

Medical treatment:

Some of the commonly prescribed medications are:

  • Topical aseptic medications
  • NSAIDs for pain relief
  • Benzoyl peroxide ointment
  • Oral antibiotics for infection
  • Vitamin-A derived drugs
  • Antipyretics in case of fever

Surgical treatment:

Surgical incision and drainage of the boil

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Home remedies

Very often the boils recover without any sort of medical intervention. Some home remedies that can speed up the healing are:

  • Apply warm compresses to soften the lump
  • Disinfect the personal items including towels, shower caps, and earbuds
  • Taking strict aseptic measures once the boil has ruptured
  • The use of tea tree oil can help with inflammation
  • Avoid scratching the skin or bursting the boil
  • Keep the ear canal clean and dry

When to consult a doctor?

Although ear boil heals within one to two weeks if the condition persists and is accompanied by other serious symptoms such as fever, vomiting, altered sensorium, or spread of infection, you should immediately consult a physician.

FAQ

Is it safe to burst a boil at home?

No, bursting boil results in the spilling of the pus and bacteria, that enter the bloodstream allowing the spread of infection to other parts of the body.

What is the best home remedy to treat an ear boil?

Warm compresses are used to soften the lump, this helps it to drain on its own.

Are boils contagious?

No, but the infection can be passed on by sharing contaminated items that may carry bacteria and other contents of the boil.

Last medically reviewed on October 12, 2021.