Why are my ears red and hot?

What can cause swelling and redness of the ears in children and adults
Last update on Jun, 15, 2021

Red ear syndrome

Although quite rare, a condition known as red ear syndrome also exists. Often referred to as auricular erythromelalgia, this disease is caused by a rapid and intense vasodilation of the small arteries of the ears. The symptoms, which include severe and painful burning of the ears as well as redness and hot to the touch, may last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours and usually affects only one ear.

In some cases, these symptoms occur spontaneously and for no apparent reason. In others, the redness and burning seems to be caused by ear chafing or as a result of exposure to extreme temperatures. The exact source of this syndrome is still unclear. It is speculated that it may be idiopathic (i.e., without a known cause) or secondary to other diseases, such as those of the spinal cord, diabetes mellitus, rheumatoid arthritis, and venous hypertension.

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Causes of red ears

Anyone can experience red, hot ears, swollen and painful to the touch. The causes of this disorder can vary. Generally, it is caused due to a sudden increase in blood flow resulting from abrupt transitions from a hot to a cold environment, overconsumption of alcohol or spicy foods, hormonal changes (hot flashes, for example) and even some medications.

However, bacterial infections affecting the skin can also be at the root of this unpleasant phenomenon. Scabs, scratches, insect bites or cuts can be the gateway for microbes and bacteria to trigger an inflammatory reaction. In such instances, the ear can get very tender and other systemic symptoms, such as fever and chills, exhaustion and enlarged lymph nodes, can also manifest. Certain types of eczema and dermatitis can also cause inflammation of the skin surrounding the ears. For instance, in seborrheic dermatitis, the skin can get red, itchy, flaky with white spots which may extend up to the middle ear. This common skin disease can also manifest itself in areas rich in sebaceous glands, such as the scalp, groin and armpits, to name a few.

Rarely, hot and red ears can also be a symptom caused by conditions such as relapsing polychondritis, a rare autoimmune rheumatic disease that affects the cartilage of the ear, or by perichondritis of the ear, an inflammation on the pinna, not always infectious in nature, that occurs following trauma (including but not limited to a piercing), insect bites or a number of systemic diseases. However, it is much more common for the ears to become hot and red for reasons of another nature. Stress, anxiety, shyness, anger and other strong emotions can trigger the vasodilation process and cause intense and sudden redness of the face, neck and ears that lasts a few minutes. Last but not least, a sunburn can also be at the origin of this discomfort.

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Other hearing diseases and symptoms

Find out more about other hearing diseases and symptoms 

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Swollen ears in children: what to do?

Redness, hot to the touch and, most importantly, swelling can be warning signs of a number of diseases that can also affect children. Together with a high fever, swollen ears might be a symptom of mumps, sixth disease, or acute otitis externa. Young children and infants cannot verbalize ear discomfort, so it is important to observe behaviors and gestures that are indicative of pain. Irritability, inconsolable crying, and constant touching of the ears can be a telltale sign. 

It is important to contact the pediatrician as soon as possible, so that the disorder can be identified and the correct treatment can be administered. Prior to seeking medical attention, it is better to avoid cold or hot compresses on the ears, washing or DIY remedies.

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