Your ear canals are the tube-like passageways that connect your outer ears to your ear drums. In some circumstances, you can develop a type of ear canal infection called external otitis or otitis externa. When external otitis is localized to a particular spot inside your ear canal, you will develop a pimple at the site of the infection.
Most external otitis infections are caused by bacteria in your ear canal, according to the Merck Manuals Home Edition. In a small minority of cases, a fungus in your canal triggers infection. You can develop external otitis if you injure your ear canal during cleaning, expose your canal to hair spray or get water in your ear. An infection caused by water exposure is also known as swimmer’s ear. Depending on your circumstances, external otitis can produce either widespread inflammation and discomfort or a localized infection called furunculosis.
Pimples and Boils
Furunculosis is characterized by an infection of a hair follicle in your ear canal, according to the National Health Service. This infection typically produces a small, red pimple which causes a level of ear pain that seems disproportionate to the size of the pimple itself. In some cases, a pimple in your ear canal will also contain either yellow or white pus. In addition, furunculosis-related pimples sometimes turn into more serious lesions called boils, which can grow large enough to significantly obstruct the interior of your affected canal. If this occurs, you can develop a substantial degree of temporary hearing loss.
A furunculosis-related pimple or boil in your ear canal will typically resolve itself without treatment in several days, the National Health Service reports. This occurs when the lesion bursts open and drains. While waiting for a pimple or boil to burst, you can reduce your pain symptoms with a nonprescription painkiller like ibuprofen. During this time, avoid scratching or otherwise disturbing your affected ear canal. If your pimple or boil doesn’t heal itself within roughly one week, see your doctor. Potential medical treatments for furunculosis include manual draining of a pimple or boil and administration of oral antibiotics.
You can help prevent ear canal infections by avoiding sticking cotton swabs or other potentially damaging items into your canals, the National Health Service notes. Additionally, avoid exposing your ear canals to shampoo, water or soap when you bathe. You can help prevent swimmer’s ear with a solution that contains equals parts of vinegar and rubbing alcohol, the Merck Manuals report. Apply drops of this solution to your ear canal both before and after swimming or other water exposure. If you have a tendency toward ear canal infections, tell your doctor when you receive treatment for other ear disorders.
You have an increased risk for ear canal infections if you have scalp dermatitis, psoriasis, allergies or eczema, the Merck Manuals note. In some cases, older individuals with diabetes and individuals with compromised immune systems can develop a dangerous ear canal infection called malignant external otitis. This infection can spread from the canal to surrounding bone tissue in the skull.