What causes swollen earlobes?

As mentioned above, there is no single cause of swollen earlobes. In fact, the possible reasons can be numerous. Here are the most common causes:
Ear piercing
Piercing is by far the most common reason why you may end up with red, hot, swollen ears. Experiencing some pain and swelling following piercing is expected and considered normal. Remember, however, that swelling after piercing should subside over a few days. If the pain intensifies and persists, you may be dealing with an infection or a piercing rejection, and it is time to see a doctor. Post-piercing cleaning instructions should be followed closely to minimize the potential for infections. 
Injury or trauma
It is not hard to see how any injury or trauma inflicted on the earlobes can create swelling. The trauma does not even have to be too large; a tight earring may be enough to bring about the uncomfortable symptoms of earlobe swelling, pain, sensitivity, and soreness. 
Hematoma auris
One particular example of injury to the ear is hematoma auris. This condition is also referred to as cauliflower ear. Contact sports such as boxing, wrestling, and martial arts are predisposing risk factors. Cauliflower ear occurs when blood collects in the outer ear due to trauma inflicted on the ear. Swelling, pain, and bruising typically go hand-in-hand with hematoma auris. 
Nickel allergy
Nickel is the most common cause of contact allergy worldwide. So how do you know if you are affected? Most people find out when they get their ears pierced and develop signs of an allergic reaction. If you are sensitive or allergic, itchy, inflamed, red skin and rash may appear at the site where nickel touched your skin.

Although the signs of allergic nickel dermatitis may only appear at the nickel exposure site for most people, some can experience more widespread symptoms or develop hand eczema. Sadly, there is no cure for allergic contact dermatitis, and people who have it do not tolerate jewelry or clothing with any amount of nickel.
Mastoiditis is a potential complication of acute otitis media (middle ear infection.) It is named after the characteristic inflammation of a portion of the temporal bone called the mastoid air cells. Thanks to the widespread availability of antibiotics, treatment of the condition is generally successful. 

Please remember that recognizing the symptoms is critical because untreated mastoiditis can lead to life-threatening complications, including meningitis, intracranial abscess, and venous sinus thrombosis. So what symptoms should you look for? Loss of hearing, pain, fever, drainage from the ear are hallmark signs of mastoiditis.
Bug bite
While insect bites are most often harmless and resolve on their own in a day or two, a bite on the lobe can sometimes trigger swelling and itchiness. Depending on the type of bug, treatment can differ. However, over-the-counter ointments to reduce itching and inflammation are commonly used. 
An abscess is a bump containing a pocket of pus and is usually the result of a bacterial infection. It can show up anywhere on the body - even on the lobes - when an area becomes infected. How does it form? In response to the infection, our immune system sends white blood cells to the infection site. These white blood cells then collect within the damaged tissue and create inflammation. 

Unfortunately, during this process, pus can form from a mixture of living, dead white blood cells, germs, and dead tissue. It is a bad idea to leave this condition untreated. It is almost a surefire way to guarantee that your earlobes will continue to swell. Besides pus and swelling, you may also experience fever, chills, nausea, lesions, and inflammation. 
Cellulitis is a potentially severe bacterial skin infection. When you develop this common condition, an area on your skin swells, becomes red, painful, and hot to the touch. While cellulitis often occurs on the lower part of the legs, it is not unusual to see it on the face, arms, or other body parts, including your ears. 

Cracked skin can allow bacteria to enter the skin, and left untreated, the infection can quickly spread to the lymph nodes. When the infection gets into the bloodstream, the situation can become life-threatening. So if you suspect cellulitis, be sure to contact your doctor right away. 
Outer ear infection
Otitis externa or swimmer's ear is the most common in children between 7 to 12 and those who swim often. The condition affects the external ear canal, the tube between the outer ear, and the eardrum. The primary symptoms of otitis externa are pain, redness, and swelling of the outer ear. In severe cases you may develop fever and swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck. 

How to treat earlobe swelling?

Just like there is no single cause of lobe swelling, the treatments vary as well. However, in most instances, it is probably a good strategy to try and bring down the swelling with a cold compress. If you think a cyst may be the reason for your swollen lobe, a warm compress may be more appropriate. 

If you are in severe pain, you may want to try over-the-counter pain medication. However, bacterial infections require treatment with antibiotics, which is why we strongly recommend that you get your ear evaluated by a healthcare professional. Your doctor will either prescribe a topical or an oral form of antibiotic. 
Antihistamines and hydrocortisone creams work exceptionally well for insect bites. 

As you can see, in the vast majority of cases, you can effectively treat swollen lobes at home. But in more severe cases - especially when fever is also present, and you suspect a bacterial infection - you should not delay getting medical attention. Oozing yellow or green-colored liquid is a definite sign to seek help from a doctor. Abscesses or cysts may also need to be surgically drained. 

Prevention tips

Common sense precautions go a long way to prevent your ears from becoming swollen. 
  • Avoid injury and trauma to your ears. 
  • Follow post-piercing cleaning instructions if you just had your ears pierced. 
  • Wear protective gear during contact sports.
  • Avoid earrings with nickel if you are allergic. 
  • Keep bug bites clean. 
  • Watch for signs and symptoms of bacterial infections. 
  • Keep your ears clean by using a clean, damp washcloth only on the outside of the ear. 

When should I seek medical attention?

You should not delay seeking medical attention if your lobe pain does not subside after a few days of home treatment or your symptoms progressively worsen. If you suspect that you have cellulitis, abscess, or mastoiditis, you should take immediate action and visit a doctor. A healthcare professional can assess the severity of your health concern and recommend the most appropriate solution for you.

What is the bottom line?

Swollen earlobes can have multiple different causes. Common reasons are ear-piercing, bug bites, injury, nickel allergy, mastoiditis, abscess, and cellulitis. The best way to treat them depends on the root cause of the problem. While over-the-counter ointments may be sufficient in some instances, sometimes oral or topical antibiotics may be necessary. A licensed doctor can help diagnose your particular issue and determine whether a prescription antibiotic is needed.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only. You should not use the information as a substitute for, nor should it replace, professional medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other health-care professional.