Boil (Furuncle) In The Ear Canal Page 1 of 2

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Boil (Furuncle) In The Ear Canal
A small boil (furuncle) that occurs in the ear canal can be very painful. It usually
clears without treatment, but painkillers and antibiotics are sometimes needed.
Tips on how to help prevent further episodes are given below.
What are the symptoms of a boil in the ear canal?
The main symptom is pain. This pain may
become quite severe even though the boil is
usually small. This is because of the location
of the boil.
Other symptoms may include itch, irritation
and sometimes there is temporary hearing
loss whilst the infection is present.
If the boil bursts, you may have a sudden
discharge from the ear. If this happens, the
pain often eases dramatically, and the
symptoms soon settle.
What causes a boil in the ear canal?
Mostly they occur 'out of the blue' for no apparent reason. They are like most spots or small
boils that can occur on any area of the skin. In some cases the infection develops on
damaged skin. You can damage the skin in the ear canal if you poke your ear with such
objects as a cotton wool bud. Slightly damaged skin can quickly become inflamed and
What is the treatment for a boil in the ear?
Like most small spots or tiny boils, a furuncle is likely to go without any treatment. The
body's immune system can usually clear bacteria (germs) that cause small boils. However,
the pain may be bad until it goes.
However, the following may be used as treatment:
You may need painkillers.
A flannel (cloth) soaked in hot water and then held against the ear may relieve the
Antibiotics are sometimes needed if it does not clear on its own or if the infection is
Sometimes the boil becomes larger and more painful. You may need to be referred
to an ear specialist if this happens.
Can I prevent infections in the ear canal?
Some people find that water, soap, shampoo, hair spray, etc, which gets into their ears can
cause irritation or itch. The itch may cause you to poke or scratch the ear canal with a finger
or a cotton wool bud. This may damage the skin in the ear canal and cause inflammation.
Inflamed skin can quickly become infected.
Some people try to clean out their ears with cotton buds. This is not only unnecessary, but
may damage the skin in the ear canal.
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Therefore, you may prevent infections of the ear canal by the following:
Try not to scratch or poke the ear canal with fingers, cotton buds, towels, etc.
Do not clean the ear canal with cotton buds. They may scratch or irritate, and push
dirt and wax further into the ear. The ear will clean itself, and bits of wax will fall out
now and then.
If you have sensitive ears, keep the ear canal dry, and avoid soap or shampoo
getting in. You can do this when you shower by placing a piece of cotton wool coated
in soft white paraffin (eg Vaseline®) in the outer ear. Do not use corners of towels or
cotton buds to dry any water that does get in the ear canal. This will only push things
further in. Let the ear dry naturally. When you swim try to keep your ears dry. You
can do this by wearing a tightly fitting cap that covers the ears. Some swimmers use
silicone rubber earplugs, but only use them if they do not irritate the skin in your ear
Boils, carbuncles, paronychia and staphylococcal whitlow, Clinical Knowledge
Summaries (2007)
Otitis externa, Clinical Knowledge Summaries (2007)
Comprehensive patient resources are available at
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions.
EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor
or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.
© EMIS 2010 Reviewed: 14 Apr 2010 DocID: 4414 Version: 38