An abscess is an encapsulated accumulation of pus in a cavity that is caused by an inflammation and can theoretically occur anywhere in the body. They are painful red nodules, usually accompanied by swelling and redness of the surrounding tissue. Typically, abscesses are found on the face, neck, buttocks and intimate areas and thus also in front of, behind and on the ear.
Depending on where an abscess occurs and how large it becomes, it can be harmless or, in the worst case, lead to damage to important organs or blood poisoning (sepsis). Pus consists of dead cells, bacteria and white blood cells, which are defence cells of the immune system. The pus forms a cavity, an abscess cavity, which is surrounded by a capsule.
Causes of an abscess in the ear
The trigger for the formation of an abscess is almost always bacteria. In most cases it is an infection with bacteria that belong to the natural skin flora. These enter the body through a poorly cared for wound or through the smallest of skin injuries.
An abscess on the ear can result from an operation, a syringe or a small wound in the area of the ear. However, even without a recognisable external cause, an abscess can form on the ear. A general weakness of the immune system, as is the case with diabetes mellitus, increases the risk of developing an abscess.
One of the most common causes of an abscess on the ear is a complication of the acute middle ear inflammation, mastoiditis. This is an acute inflammation of the mastoid process, a bony prominence behind the ear. The inflammation leads to the formation of abscesses, usually caused by an inflamed mucous membrane in conjunction with the involvement of the bone (bone fusion).
Around the third or fourth week after an inflammation of the middle ear, the abscess becomes noticeable by a pressure-painful swelling behind the ear. An abscess on the ear can also be caused by an inflammation of the ear canal (otitis externa). This is an inflammation of the skin in the external auditory canal caused by bacteria or fungi.
Such an ear canal inflammation is often observed after swimming, which has led to the name “Swimmer ́s Ear”. If contaminated water gets into the ear and at the same time there are tiny injuries to the skin of the ear canal (e.g. due to improper cleaning of the ear with cotton swabs), an infection can occur. Earwax has an antibacterial effect and should not be removed too often, as it can then no longer perform its protective function.
An abscess can form on the ear as a result of an inflammation and lead to further complications such as the spread of the inflammation to the bones or nerve paralysis. Furuncles are just as common in the area of the ear, which can spread to abscesses. A boil is a painful inflammation of the hair follicle and surrounding tissue. Furuncles on the ear are caused, for example, by injuries to the skin when shaving or during ear hair removal.