Pimples in Ears

Is this normal?

Acne is generally seen as an adolescent issue, but it’s common across all age groups.

Nearly 50 million people in the United States have acne at any given time. It’s the most common skin condition in the country.

Pimples can form anywhere, though they primarily affect the areas with the most oil glands. This includes your face and your back.

It’s not uncommon for pimples to form inside of your ear, too. Pimples in your ear can usually be treated at home without guidance from your doctor.

We’ll cover more about what causes pimples to form in your ear and how to make them go away.

What causes a pimple to form in the ear?

Acne is a broad term that describes a variety of skin conditions. It refers to everything from whiteheads and blackheads to cysts and nodules.

A whitehead occurs when oil, or sebum, clogs a pore. A blackhead occurs when sebum is exposed to air and turns dark. The sac under the skin can break, become irritated, or even infected, leading to the formation of cysts and nodules.

Acne in its various forms can appear in your ear, like in the outer ear (auricle) and the external ear canal. The skin of the outer ear covers cartilage and a small amount of fat. The skin of the ear canal has hair cells as well as glands that produce oil and ear wax.

If these glands produce too much oil, it may cause acne to form in your ear. This can also happen when dead skin cells or bacteria build up in your pores.

When these things happen, you may develop a pimple in the affected area. A pimple will form in your ear if the oil is unable to escape or bacteria grows in a clogged pore.

A buildup in bacteria can be caused by a few things, such as sticking your finger in your ear or using earbuds or headphones that aren’t cleaned often.

Other causes of acne include stress and a hormonal imbalance.

The same things that cause acne elsewhere on the body can also cause pimples in the ear. However, due to the sensitive nature of the ear, acne in this location has to be treated with care.

Is it safe to pop a pimple that’s formed in my ear?

Although it may be tempting to pop or squeeze the pimple, you should avoid this at all costs. This may get rid of the blemish, or it could make it much worse.

Squeezing the pimple can force bacteria and pus deeper into your pores. This may cause the area to become more irritated and inflamed. If you do squeeze the pimple and pus comes out, the area will scab. This trauma may encourage a scar to develop.

If the pimple gets infected, it can become a boil. These pus-filled bumps are generally painful and can often be treated with the same methods as pimples.

A pimple can turn into a boil on its own too. It can also happen because of trauma to the area as a result of picking, poking, and squeezing.

How are pimples in the ear typically treated?

You can try a warm compress to loosen and soften any existing pimples. The heat may help bring the pus to the surface and allow it to drain out on its own.

If this happens, be sure to clean up the liquid quickly but cautiously. You don’t want to irritate the affected area any further, and you don’t want the bacteria to spread. Be sure to wash the area thoroughly.

If you have persistent or painful breakouts, you should consult your doctor. They’ll assess your acne and give it one of these “grades”:

Your doctor will recommend a treatment plan best suited to your needs. Your treatment may include:

  • Topicals. Topical medications derived from vitamin A are available by prescription and over the counter (OTC). Tretinoin (Retin-A) is the most common prescription option. Shop for OTC acne creams online.
  • Benzoyl peroxide. A variety of OTC benzoyl peroxide compounds are also available. For moderate acne, use a solution that’s 5 percent benzoyl peroxide. You shouldn’t use these solutions near an open wound or mucus membrane, like inside your nose or mouth. Shop for OTC benzoyl peroxide treatments online.
  • Antibiotics. Your doctor may recommend an antibiotic such as minocycline (Amzeeq, Minocin) or doxycycline (Doryx, Doryx MPC) to treat bacteria associated with acne. However, antibiotic treatment for acne is less popular than it was in the past. Concern is growing about antibiotic resistance and antibiotic therapy.
  • Systemic drugs. Systemic drugs derived from vitamin A, such as isotretinoin, are usually reserved for severe cases of cystic acne. They’re effective, but they’ve been linked to numerous side effects.

Acne lesions, particularly those caused by severe acne, can be painful. Appropriate and prompt treatment can begin with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Naprosyn). Your doctor may also recommend prescription drugs if these options aren’t effective.

The various treatments for acne can have complicated and serious interactions. For example, some research shows that antibiotics can lower the effectiveness of hormonal contraceptives. Sensitivity to the sun is more likely with some antibiotics, vitamin A compounds, and NSAIDs.

FYI:

Acne treatments can take anywhere from several weeks to several months to produce noticeable differences.

What else could it be?

Acne can appear anywhere, and it’s easy for a lesion on the ear to remain tucked away or out of sight for an extended period of time. However, it’s also possible that the bump in or on your ear is the result of another condition.

Possible conditions that may resemble a pimple include:

  • Granuloma fissuratum. These tender, red patches of skin are usually caused by wearing glasses.
  • Keloid. Keloids are red or purple nodules that are often associated with small excisions.
  • Seborrheic keratosis. Seborrheic keratosis is a type of skin growth that appears as a flat, light brown lesion.
  • Epidermoid cyst. Epidermoid cysts are small, slow-growing bumps that form beneath the skin. They’re sometimes mistakenly referred to as sebaceous cysts.
  • Basal cell carcinoma. Tumors caused by this type of skin cancer may be mistaken for persistent pimples.

It’s important to seek medical attention if the bump or surrounding area is painful, irritated, or persistent. Lesions that don’t respond to typical acne treatments may not be acne and should also be seen by a doctor.

In a 2012 study involving Indian people who came to a doctor with dermatological conditions of the ear, the most common diagnoses were tinea facei (ringworm)psoriasis, and herpes zoster (shingles).

Acne was rare, only accounting for about 1 percent of the diagnoses. The prevalence of acne may be different for other ethnic groups, though.

How do you prevent pimples in the ear?

Although acne can be unpredictable, there are a few things that you can do to reduce your chances of breaking out:

  • Keep your face, neck, and ears clear of excess oil and grime that can clog pores.
  • Opt for a pH-balancing cleanser instead of conventional soap. Shop for pH-balancing cleansers online.
  • Be sure to wash gently and pat dry instead of pulling at the skin. Scrubbing can also irritate your skin.
  • Clean your earbuds and headsets regularly. This may help prevent future breakouts.
References:
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Aronson JK, et al. (2020). Analysis of reports of unintended pregnancies associated with the combined use of non-enzyme-inducing antibiotics and hormonal contraceptives.
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Cook D, et al. (2010). Acne: Best practice management.
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Gollnick HP, et al. (2014). Not all acne is acne vulgaris.
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How to treat different types of acne. (n.d.).
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Isotretinoin: The truth about side effects. (n.d.).
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Karadag AS, et al. (2020). Antibiotic resistance in acne: Changes, consequences and concerns.
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Mehta B, et al. (2012). A clinical study of 1000 cases of dermatological diseases involving the ear.
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https://www.healthline.com/health/beauty-skin-care/pimple-in-ear
https://www.healthline.com/reviewers/sarika-ramachandran-md
Written by Elizabeth Connor — Updated on March 17, 2021

 

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