Symptoms of an abscess in the ear | Abscess of the ear

Symptoms of an abscess in the ear

Depending on where the abscess is located on the ear, different symptoms can occur. For example, in mastoiditis, after initial improvement or even after an acute inflammation of the middle ear, there is renewed ear pain, sensitivity to pressure behind the ear and swelling associated with a protrusion of the auricle. Skin abscesses in the area of the ear can look like enlarged pimples, they are characterized by redness and swelling of the tissue.

The swelling usually causes pain and a feeling of tension, and there is also a pronounced pressure pain. For example, pain can be caused by pressure on the cartilaginous elevation in front of the auditory canal (tragus) or by pulling on the auricle. An abscess on the ear can also lead to pronounced itching, as well as discharge from the ear or hearing loss.

In many cases, the abscess causes pain when chewing or even when speaking. It can also lead to painful and enlarged palpable lymph nodes in the neck. An abscess on the ear can also severely impair the general condition with fever.


To determine the diagnosis of an abscess on the ear, the patient’s medical history is first taken (anamnesis). It is important for the doctor to know, for example, how the ear is cleaned and which hygiene products are used. Cotton swabs should never be used to clean the ear.

The ear is examined (inspection) and checked for redness, swelling and points of pain. These are the typical signs of inflammation and are usually found in an abscess. Even if the abscess is located outside the ear, the ear canal is usually examined with an ear mirror (otoscope) to rule out the possibility of eardrum involvement. In some cases, it is useful to take a smear from the abscess on the ear in order to determine the triggering pathogen in the laboratory and to be able to use targeted medication.

The treatment of an abscess in the ear

An abscess in the area of the ears, head or neck carries a particular risk, which is why they should never be treated by themselves, but should always be in the hands of a doctor. The immediate proximity of such an abscess to the brain can, if not treated properly, cause the bacteria to enter the brain and cause, for example, bacterial meningitis. In general, if an abscess is found on the ear, a doctor should be consulted first, rather than treating it yourself to cause greater damage.

The affected person can seek advice from the doctor on how to proceed. In case of a smaller abscess, a so-called pulling ointment can provide relief. As the name suggests, the ointment pulls out the pus and inflammation.

It can have an analgesic, anti-inflammatory, blood circulation-promoting and antibacterial effect. It also inhibits the formation of sebum. Depending on the preparation, different active ingredients can be contained in the pulling ointments.

Sulfonated shale oil is often used. This is contained in the active substance ammonium bituminosulphate, for example. This is also called ichthammolum.

The active substance ensures that the abscess empties itself after a few days. Depending on the severity and individual factors, different concentrations and dosages are appropriate. Although some ointments are available over the counter from pharmacies or on the internet, it is strongly recommended that you contact a doctor.

This doctor can assess whether treatment with an ointment is sufficient or whether other measures need to be taken. If it is a small abscess on the ear and depending on where it is located, the doctor may recommend a pull-on ointment. These ointments contain active ingredients of shale oil and promote the maturation of the abscess so that it can empty itself.

The doctor will then thoroughly clean the small crater and cover it with a plaster, after which the abscess on the ear should heal within a few days. A larger abscess on the ear must be opened in a minor surgical procedure so that the pus can drain away. As a rule, the affected person immediately feels a relieving sensation and a significant reduction in pain when the pus cavity is opened, as the pain caused by the strong pressure on the surrounding tissue is suddenly reduced.

A strip of gauze soaked in an antibacterial solution is often placed in the wound. This acts as a drainage through which remaining pus can drain off and the wound can slowly heal from below. Mastoiditis usually requires surgery.

A so-called mastoidectomy is performed. The bone behind the ear is exposed, milled and the pus is removed. Since abscesses can re-form even after complete healing, the attending physician should be consulted again if the pain does not subside, the area around the wound is swollen or red, or if the wound fills with pus again.

Since an abscess on the ear is a bacterial inflammation, antibiotic treatment is an obvious choice. But because the abscess is surrounded by a capsule, it is often difficult or impossible for the active ingredient of an antibiotic to reach the site. Treatment with antibiotics alone is rarely sufficient.

Usually additional measures are required. If a fever develops in the ear as a result of the abscess, antibiotics must be used. Fever is a sign that the bacteria have already reached the blood.

There is a risk of blood poisoning. If fever occurs, an immediate visit to the doctor is absolutely necessary. There are various household remedy recommendations.

According to some voices, peppermint, camphor and coffee should be avoided. Aloe vera, chamomile, hay flower and arnica can be supportive. In some cases, the local application of a plistincture can support the healing process.

Some authors recommend drinking nettle tea. Furthermore, warmth supports the healing process. This can be in the form of a red light lamp or in the form of compresses.

There are various suggestions and experiences regarding warm compresses. Some authors recommend compresses with pure hot water, others recommend compresses with chamomile or marigold and still others recommend compresses with hot milk. As a household remedy, crushed raisins, a crushed cabbage leaf, fenugreek seeds, warmed slices of onion or garlic, or burdock leaves seem to be helpful in some cases.

In some cases, homeopathic remedies may be helpful in addition to other measures. For example, Traumeel® S tablets in combination with 5 drops of Notakehl D 5 are recommended. As a rule, these should be taken 4 times a day for 2 days.