Pruritus (itchy) of the Ears
Pruritus of the external auditory canal, particularly at the meatus, is common. While it may be associated with external otitis or with seborrheic dermatitis or psoriasis, most cases are self-induced from excoriation or overly zealous ear cleaning. To permit regeneration of the protective cerumen blanket, patients should be instructed to avoid use of soap and water or cotton swabs in the ear canal and avoid any scratching. Patients with excessively dry canal skin may benefit from application of mineral oil, which helps counteract dryness and repel moisture. When an inflammatory component is present, topical application of a corticosteroid (eg, 0.1% triamcinolone) may be beneficial.
Itchy ears can be the result of a number of situations:
Dry skin: If your ears don’t produce enough wax, your ear skin can become dry and itchy. Wax has lubricating effects. Its absence can cause you to experience itching. You may even notice flaking skin coming from the ear.
Ear canal dermatitis: This condition occurs when the skin in and around your ear canal becomes inflamed. It can be the result of an allergic reaction to products in or near your ear, such as personal care products or metal in earrings. Another type of dermatitis in the ear is called aural eczematoid dermatitis, which has unknown causes.
Otitis externa (outer ear infection): Otitis externa, or infection of the outer ear canal, can cause ear pain as well as itching. This is also known as swimmer’s ear and is caused by inflammation that’s usually due to infection. It can lead to redness and swelling.
Hearing aid use: Hearing aids can cause water to become trapped in the ears or trigger an allergic reaction to the hearing aid itself. Ill-fitting hearing aids can also place pressure on certain areas of the ear, leading to itching.
Psoriasis: Psoriasis is a skin condition that causes a red rash to develop. Psoriasis can occur on visible parts of your body, such as your arms or inside your ears.
Itchy ears can feel irritating and bothersome. It may seem that scratching will help. However, your ears will probably feel worse when you scratch. When infected, itchy ears can be accompanied by:
- drainage from the ear
Seek immediate medical attention if:
- you’re experiencing severe bleeding or drainage from your ears
- you suddenly have hearing loss
See your doctor immediately if your itchy ear symptoms don’t improve with time or home care.
They will likely examine your ears and take a medical history to help identify potential causes. This can help them identify any telltale rashes, such as eczema-like patches.
Your doctor may also look for excess earwax or earwax very close to the eardrum, which can cause itching. To pinpoint the cause, they will likely ask about other symptoms you have, such as fever, and when they began.
Itchy ears are typically due to a breakdown in ear skin health. Treatment usually seeks to fix these breakdowns. Common causes include:
- earwax lubrication
- excess water in the ear
- foreign particles and debris in the ear
If your itchy ears are the result of an allergic reaction, refrain from using any products that could’ve potentially caused the irritation. These include new earrings and personal care products.
Always talk with your doctor before putting ointments or drops in or on your ear. This ensures you’re not putting anything irritating in the ear. Also, if you have a damaged eardrum, you shouldn’t use any ointments or drops unless your doctor specifically prescribes them.
Your healthcare provider may recommend or prescribe the following:
- antibiotic ointment
- baby oil to soften the skin
- steroid topical ointment that relieves inflammation, such as 1-percent hydrocortisone cream or 0.1-percent betamethasone cream
- swimmer’s ear eardrops, or a diluted solution of rubbing alcohol, acetic acid, or hydrogen peroxide
Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat infection if your itching ears are accompanied by a high temperature, or blood or pus draining from the ear.
Consider scheduling regular appointments with your doctor to clean your ears. This can minimize trauma to the area while helping you remove excess earwax.
To prevent irritation, avoid cleaning your ears with objects such as:
- cotton balls
- cotton swabs
- paper clips
- bobby pins
Other ways to avoid irritation in your ears include:
- Use antiallergic jewelry, which can prevent allergic reactions that lead to itching.
- If you swim frequently, use a solution to dry up excess water in the ear canal.
- If you experience excess earwax production, you may want to keep your earwax at a manageable level by using doctor-approved approaches, such as eardrops or a bulb syringe.