Inside Of Ear Itches

Don’t hesitate to call your doctor about an ear infection. And if you wear a hearing aid or earbuds, clean them regularly to avoid itchiness and infection, following the manufacturer’s directions.

What to Know About Ear Eczema

Ear eczema is when you experience itchiness or dry skin around, on, or inside of your ear. Eczema can range from only slightly noticeable to very painful or irritating.

About Ear Eczema

Ear eczema can affect all parts of your ear, including:

  • Your ear lobes
  • The area outside of your ear hole called the conchal bowl
  • The opening of the ear
  • The ear canal
  • Behind your ear
  • Your ear folds
  • Where your ears meet your face

There are several kinds of eczema that can occur on or in the ear, including:

  • Atopic eczema
  • Irritant contact dermatitis
  • Allergic contact dermatitis
  • Otitis externa
  • Seborrhoeic dermatitis
  • Asteatotic eczema

All of these can cause your skin to feel itchy, red, or irritated. Your skin can become inflamed, which may feel uncomfortable or painful. Each type has different causes and treatments.

Eczema on any part of the body is a condition that causes your skin to become dry and itchy. Children tend to experience eczema more often than adults, usually even before they reach one year old. While eczema tends to last for quite a while, it can get better and improve over time.

Signs and Symptoms

Depending on the cause of your ear eczema, you might experience different symptoms. All kinds can cause you to feel pain and itching in or around your ear, depending on the affected area.

Inside the ear. Ear eczema can cause different symptoms inside of your ear canal, the part of your ear that leads to the eardrum. Depending on the type of eczema, you may have a thin discharge coming from your ear canal, along with itchiness or pain. It might swell due to irritation and inflammation. In the most extreme cases, your hearing might be affected.

On or behind the ear. If your eczema is on the outside of your ear, for example, these areas may become dry and flaky. Depending on the type, the skin may become red and itchy, and possibly crack.

Causes of Eczema

Different types of eczema have different causes.

Contact dermatitis. Also called contact eczema, this occurs when your skin comes into contact with something that causes an allergic reaction. This can happen with items that you use every day to which you may suddenly react to. Some common allergens include:

  • Shampoos
  • Makeup and cosmetic products
  • Jewelry
  • Nickel
  • Hearing aids
  • Ear drops

Atopic eczema. People with atopic eczema have skin that is more sensitive than normal. This causes the skin to become dry and itchy and can get infected if the skin is broken. This kind of eczema occurs when the skin can’t hold in enough moisture and dries out. It can cause dermatitis of the ear canal.

Atopic eczema most commonly occurs behind the ear or where the ear lobe meets your face. The skin in these areas can become so dry that they crack.

Otitis externa. Also known as swimmer’s ear, this type of eczema can be caused by water, shampoo, or soap entering and irritating the ear canal. It can also be caused by damage to the skin from scratching or using Q-tips.

Seborrhoeic dermatitis. This occurs in areas of the body with sebaceous glands that produce oil, including the ear. It causes dermatitis of the ear canal. The skin becomes red and crusty.

Asteatotic eczema. This type of eczema usually affects the older population. It can be caused by reactions to changes in weather, like cold temperatures or the wind. They may also become irritated from washing them too much, or from indoor temperature changes as a result of using air conditioning or heating.

Treating Ear Eczema

Once you pinpoint the cause of eczema behind the ear or in it, you can start to treat it. You may need to visit a doctor to help you discover the cause of your ear eczema.

Contact dermatitis can be treated simply by removing the item that’s causing the allergic reaction. It might take some time to discover if your jewelry, cosmetics, or shampoo is causing the reaction. To alleviate the itching, you can apply a topical cream like hydrocortisone.

Atopic, asteatotic, and seborrhoeic eczema may require the application of a medical-grade moisturizer to relieve dryness and itching. Your doctor may prescribe you a topical steroid to apply to eczema behind the ear or on the folds. Depending on the cause, your doctor may also give you an antifungal cream. If your eczema is inside of your ear canal, your doctor can prescribe you steroid ear drops.

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Show Sources

Eczema Foundation: “Eczema on the Ears.”

Merck Manual Professional Version: “Dermatitis of the Ear Canal (Chronic Otitis Externa).”

National Eczema Society: “Ear eczema.”

National Eczema Society: “Ear eczema factsheet.”

NHS: “Atopic eczema.”

NHS: “Otitis externa.”

Why Do My Ears Itch?

Can’t stop scratching your ears? An itchy ear canal (the tube that connects your outer ear to your eardrum) happens to people of all ages. How you can get relief will depend on what’s making you scratch.

No matter the cause of your itch, it’s never a good idea to stick any objects in your ears. You could damage your inner ear, including the tiny bones that help you hear.

Some reasons for itchy ears include:

Earwax buildup. Wax is your body’s way of cleaning dead skin cells and dirt out of your ears, but too much of it can make them itch.

Don’t be tempted to try to remove the buildup with a cotton swab. That pushes the wax deeper inside, where it can get stuck. Instead, try over-the-counter ear drops that break up the wax. If that doesn’t help, see your doctor. They can use a special tool to safely remove built-up wax.

But don’t overdo it. Ears can also get itchy if they don’t have enough wax inside them.

Infections. Itchy ears can sometimes be a sign of an ear infection. Bacteria and viruses cause them, usually when you have a cold, the flu, or allergies. One kind, swimmer’s ear, can happen when water stays in your ear after you swim. Too much moisture wears away your ear canal’s natural layer of defense against germs.

To stop the itch, you’ll need to treat the infection. Some may go away on their own, but your doctor could prescribe ear drops. You may need to take them a few times a day for a week. Other infections may need a course of antibiotics. Learn more about ear infection symptoms.

Skin allergies. The skin inside your ears can itch because of an allergic reaction. A beauty product like hair spray or shampoo could be the culprit. So can products that have nickel, like earrings. Plastic, rubber, or metal you put inside your ears, like earbuds or a hearing aid, can also cause a rash called contact dermatitis.

To get relief, you’ll need to figure out what you’re allergic to and stop using it. Until then, your doctor may prescribe a steroid cream to stop your urge to scratch. Learn more about skin allergies and contact dermatitis.

Eczema or psoriasis. If you have these skin conditions, you may be prone to itchy ear canals. You can usually treat these problems with ear drops. In severe cases, you may also need to take steroid pills. Learn more about psoriasis in your ears.

Cleaning your ears. Putting cotton swabs into your ears can inflame your ear canal and leave you itching. Bobby pins, paper clips, matchsticks, and your fingers can also scratch the skin inside your ears, making it easy for bacteria to enter and cause an infection. Learn more about how to clean your ears.

Food allergies. If you have hay fever or a pollen allergy, your ears may itch when you eat certain fruits, vegetables, or tree nuts. Known as oral allergy syndrome, you may notice this most during allergy season.

The prickly feeling in your ears should stop as soon as you swallow the food or take it out of your mouth. In most cases, you don’t need treatment. Still, speak to your doctor. She may test you to see how severe your allergy is. People with extreme food allergies may need to carry an epinephrine auto-injector. Learn more about food allergies and your skin.

Show Sources

National Eczema Society: “Fact Sheet: Ear Eczema.”

NHS Choices: “Otitis externa.”

University of Texas McGovern Medical School Department of Otorhinolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery: “Patient Care: Itchy Ears.”

Mayo Clinic: “Ear Infections.”

Merck Manual: “Consumer Version: Dermatitis of the Ear Canal.”

American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: “Oral Allergy Syndrome.”

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: “Oral Allergy Syndrome.”

American Family Physician: “Otitis Externa: A Practical Guide to Treatment and Prevention.”

American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery: “Experts Update Best Practices for Diagnosis and Treatment of Ear Wax (Cerumen Impaction): Important Patient Education on Healthy Ear Care.”

National Psoriasis Foundation: “Psoriasis on the Face.”

The Journal of Pediatrics, “Pediatric Cotton-Tip Applicator-Related Ear Injury Treated in United States Emergency Departments, 1990-2010.”

DermNet New Zealand, “Otitis Externa.”

The Truth About Itchy Ears: You May Be Causing the Problem

itchy ears and ear drops

When it comes to itchy ears, you may be your own worst enemy. So put down that cotton swab (or whatever you were about to stick in there) and think about that for a minute.

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Now let’s talk about what you should — and shouldn’t — do for your ears.

Itchy ears are quite common and aren’t usually a sign of a serious condition. But sometimes, the things you do, or forget to do, can cause them to itch — or make the problem worse.

Ear surgeon Erika Woodson, MD, says itchy ears are a universal experience. “It’s part of the human condition, but it’s not generally something to be concerned about,” she says.

Why your ears are itchy

Dr. Woodson traces the most likely causes of these problems.

Overcleaning

Dr. Woodson says nearly half the people she treats have ear conditions they caused themselves. The biggest culprit? Excessive or intrusive cleaning.

“The purpose of earwax is to waterproof and protect your ears,” she explains. “It has both antifungal and antibacterial properties to help prevent infection.”

Over-cleaning can remove that protection. While it may provide temporary relief, it leaves you open to bigger problems than that tickle in your ear.

Sticking objects in your ear canal to clean it (or to scratch an itch) often just makes matters worse. You’ll likely just push the wax farther in. With time, that can lead to earwax buildup.

Wax buildup

Itchiness is often a symptom of wax buildup, but you’ll likely notice other signs — pain or an odor coming from your ear, for instance.

“Most of us don’t need to clean our ears at all,” says Dr. Woodson. Earwax generally comes out of your ear canal on its own. And you can wash it away from your outer ear when you bathe.

You can typically treat earwax buildup at home. Use ear drops to break up the wax. After you shower or take a bath, just pat the external ear canal dry with a towel. Don’t try to clean out your ear canal with anything else, Dr. Woodson advises. See your doctor if drops aren’t effective.

Underlying skin conditions

Dermatologic conditions like eczema and psoriasis can surface on various areas of the skin — and make you itch.

But the rashes or plaques can also develop in places your eye can’t see.

“Your ear canal is lined with skin like the rest of your body, so eczema and psoriasis may also show up there,” Dr. Woodson explains.

If your ears itch and you have a condition like eczema or psoriasis, see your dermatologist, or an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist. “Get your ears checked out — your itch may be caused by a treatable dermatologic condition,” says Dr. Woodson.

Ear infections

Itchiness is one early symptom of an ear infection. But you’ll typically see other symptoms as well.

“If you feel pain in the ear or there’s discharge from the ear, it’s time to call your doctor,” Dr. Woodson advises.

These are signs of an infection, which can harm your ears or damage your hearing.

Dr. Woodson notes that those who use hearing aids or earbuds are sometimes more prone to fungal ear infections.

Don’t hesitate to call your doctor about an ear infection. And if you wear a hearing aid or earbuds, clean them regularly to avoid itchiness and infection, following the manufacturer’s directions.

Food allergies

Yes, food allergies can cause your ears to itch. For those with hay fever or a pollen allergy, your ears may begin to itch after you eat foods like nuts, soy, wheat, milk, fish and shellfish.

If you have a pollen allergy, known as oral allergy syndrome, you may feel itching in your ears after eating foods like apples, melons, bananas, cherries, kiwis, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts and almonds.

You may develop hives and have itching on other areas of your face, too. If you’re having trouble breathing after eating any of these foods, you may be experiencing anaphylaxis and should seek treatment immediately.

Irritation from jewelry

You may have a sensitivity to certain metals like nickel that are used to make jewelry, including earrings. Wearing earrings may lead to itchy ears.

Nickel is one of the most common skin allergies. If you’re allergic to nickel, you may experience itchiness, redness, dry patches or even swelling. Symptoms typically last 12 to 48 hours after contact.

The best treatment is to avoid contact with nickel, but if you have mild symptoms, over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream and antihistamines can help.

Mild ear itchiness is usually temporary and goes away on its own. If your itch lasts more than a few days, or if you have other symptoms, see your doctor. And remember, cleaning your ears the right way will help you avoid problems.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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