Sinus & Allergy

When Ears Are Swollen Shut

written by Becki Andrus
Doctor checking patients ear during medical examination

Most ear infections cause inner pain, which means that a visual inspection of the ear doesn’t often show external symptoms. But as the ear canal swells, the symptoms become more apparent – and this condition can cause the external ear canal to swell.

In severe cases, a complete ear blockage can occur because of the swelling. This condition is known as otitis externa. Usually, the infection starts within the ear canal, then causes the spread of infection through the ear.

Symptoms of a Serious Ear Infection

Most people experience minor symptoms at the beginning, which get worse when the condition is left untreated. Common symptoms include:

  • Mild to severe ear pain
  • Itching sensation in the ear canal
  • Abnormal discharge of fluid from the ear
  • Temporary hearing loss

Most of the time, only one ear is affected. Usually, the infection is caused by bacterial exposure, although these symptoms can also develop due to allergies, environmental irritation, or fungal infections.

What Causes the Ears to be Swollen Shut?

Your ears can become swollen shut due to the development of an infection or exposure to irritants. Common causes include:

  • Exposure to bacteria in polluted water, such as swimming pools or hot tubs
  • Inserting cotton swabs in the ear canal for cleaning
  • Contact with irritating chemicals, such as hair dye or hair spray
  • Damage to the ear canal skin due to trauma or objects inserted into the ear
  • Skin conditions in the ear canal, such as seborrhea or eczema

The most common cause of this condition is due to water in the ear. Having water in the ear creates an ideal environment where infection can flourish. Additionally, the uncomfortable feeling often causes people to tug or scratch at the ear to relieve the pressure. As a result, these actions can damage the skin inside the ear, which increases the risk of complications.

Don’t Delay Treatment for an Ear Infection

Regardless of whether your ear is swollen shut completely, you shouldn’t delay treatment if you suspect that you have an ear infection. Visiting an ENT is an important step to minimize the risk of serious complications. When ear infections are left untreated, it could lead to:

  • Recurring symptoms and infections
  • Hearing loss – usually temporary, although long-term damage can occur
  • Damage to the cartilage and bone if the infection spreads

Our experienced staff will complete a thorough exam to determine the cause of your symptoms. We provide a variety of in-office treatments to eliminate the infection and help you find relief.

Treatment and Prevention

The most successful treatments focus on not only opening the ear passageways but also addressing the underlying infection. When the ear infection is eliminated, then the swelling will go away.

It is also important to consider preventive steps to minimize the risk of swollen ears in the future. For example, if the ear symptoms are caused by irritants, allergies, or environmental exposure, then you need to avoid the compounds that are causing the symptoms. Discuss preventive steps that can be followed if your ears are often exposed to water due to swimming or sports activities.

Why You Should Visit an ENT

While treatments may be available from general medical clinics, the best solution is to talk to a specialist for serious conditions affecting your ears, nose, or throat. We stay up-to-date with the latest advancements in the ENT industry, including modern diagnostic equipment in our office.

During your appointment, a physical exam will be completed to determine how the swelling is affecting drainage within your ears. If digital imaging is required, then we can use state-of-the-art equipment to see the structure of the middle and inner ear areas. This diagnostic step is important when the ears are swollen shut because the view into the ear is blocked by the swelling.

Treatment options vary depending on the severity of symptoms and the doctor’s diagnosis. For example, the ENT might use gentle suction to remove debris, earwax, fluid, and other elements that are blocking the ear canal. This treatment opens up the area so medicated ear drops can be applied to the infected ear. In cases where the ear is blocked due to swelling, a cotton wick might need to be inserted into the ear. The cotton wick is removed several days later.

Schedule an Appointment with an ENT near Collin County, Denton or Dallas

Are you concerned about your ear symptoms? If you suspect that you have an infection, or you are experiencing recurring symptoms, then it is time to talk to a specialist about your concerns.

Collin County Ear, Nose, and Throat provides the quality care you deserve. Visit a nearby office in Frisco or Plano, TX. You can request an appointment through our online form, or call the office for an exam: (972) 596-4005.

Our clients' stories

We find our patients’ experiences the most rewarding part of the job. Without them, we wouldn’t be one of the longest standing ENT practices in the area!

“We consulted Dr Tseng based on our pediatrician's recommendation. He's so great a doctor who took time to explain us everything and genuinely guided us in the right direction. He's such a caring, genuine and knowledgeable doctor. Oh how I wish there were more like him! ”

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“I have used Collin Co. ENT and Dr. Kenny Carter for over 3 years, primarily for ear problems. The staff has been consistently helpful and friendly to me. When I have had problems needing immediate attention and explained the need, have been able to get an appointment within a reasonable time to address the problem. I recommend Dr. Carter and his staff.”

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