Outer ear pain occurs with many conditions, ranging from a minor infection of the ear canal to a severe ear injury, among others. Here's what you need to know about causes of outer/external ear pain.

Your ear comprises outer (external), middle and inner portions. Your external ear consists of the visible outer ear (called the pinna or auricle), and the ear canal leading to your eardrum. These structures collect sound waves and direct them toward your middle and inner ear. Several conditions can trigger pain in your outer ear, most of which involve the skin of one or more of the external ear structures.

Acute External Otitis

  • Water in your ear canal (the origin of the moniker swimmer's ear)
  • Hearing aid use
  • Earwax buildup 
  • Wearing tight ear-covering garments, such as:

Ear Canal Boils

The outer one-third of your ear canals contain tiny hairs that help prevent dirt and other debris from getting deeper into your ears. Bacteria can invade the follicles that give rise to these hairs and lead to the development of one or more small boils, or furuncles in medical lingo. These pus-filled pimples are the same as boils that develop in other body locations.

Ear canal boils generally cause symptoms virtually indistinguishable from those that occur with AEO except boils don't typically cause ongoing drainage from the ear. Your doctor can differentiate these two conditions when looking into your ear canal. The distinction is important because it influences treatment.

Ear Injuries

It probably seems obvious but it's important to consider ear injuries if you experience sudden outer ear pain. A forceful blow to your external ear can cause substantial pain, bruising and swelling. Cuts or bites to your outer ear constitute other common types of painful outer ear trauma.

Ear trauma requires medical evaluation because of the possibility of infection, accompanying facial bone fractures or eardrum rupture, or other serious complications.

Ear Canal Blockage

  • Cleaning the ear canals with cotton swabs
  • Hearing aid use
  • Frequent use of earplugs
  • Heavy growth of ear hair
  • Ear canal deformities :

Other Causes

The ailments already discussed account for most cases of outer ear pain but there are other possible causes. Some of these uncommon culprits include:

  • Severe or worsening ear pain
  • Spreading redness involving the external ear and/or surrounding skin
  • Fever, with or without chills  
  • Rash, burning or tingling near the ear
  • Facial drooping
  • Difficulty opening your mouth
  • Sudden hearing loss
  • Foul-smelling or bloody drainage from the ear :
The Wrap Up

Risk factors for this condition include: * Cleaning the ear canals with cotton swabs
Hearing aid use Frequent use of earplugs Heavy growth of ear hair Ear canal deformities Among young children, ear canal blockage often results from a foreign object — like a bead or bean — the child put in the ear. AEO develops quickly (less than 48 hours) and causes moderate to severe outer ear pain that worsens when you press or pull on the pinna. Seek immediate medical care if you (or your child) have a weakened immune system or diabetes, experience ear trauma, have tubes in the eardrums, or experience any warning signs or symptoms that might indicate a potentially serious condition, including: * Severe or worsening ear pain Spreading redness involving the external ear and/or surrounding skin
Fever, with or without chills  
Rash, burning or tingling near the ear Facial drooping Difficulty opening your mouth Sudden hearing loss* Foul-smelling or bloody drainage from the ear Outer ear pain occurs with many conditions, ranging from a minor infection of the ear canal to a severe ear injury, among others.

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