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Itchy Ears

While your ears may be fairly small compared to an arm or leg, they are full of sensitive neurological fibers. As a result, ears are subject to their fair share of itching. You might have chronically itchy ears simply because they’re highly sensitive. However, itchy ears can also indicate an underlying medical condition. By understanding some of the causes of itchy ears, you can determine how to find relief.

What causes itchy ears?

Itchy ears can stem from 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, and its absence can cause you to experience itching. You may even notice flaking skin coming from the ear.

Ear canal dermatitis

This occurs when the skin in and around the ear canal becomes inflamed. This condition 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, which is 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 person to develop a red rash. Psoriasis can occur on visible parts of the body, such as arms or inside the ears.

What are the symptoms of itchy 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. Infected, itchy ears can be accompanied by:

  • fever
  • swelling
  • drainage from the ear

When to seek medical help

Seek immediate medical attention if you’re experiencing severe bleeding or drainage from your ears, or if you suddenly have hearing loss.

Make an appointment to see your doctor if your itchy ear symptoms don’t improve with time or home care.

Your doctor 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 also may view excess earwax or earwax very close to the eardrum, which can cause itching. To pinpoint the cause, they will likely ask what other symptoms you have (such as fever), and when they began.

How are itchy ears treated?

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 have potentially caused the irritation. These include new earrings and personal care products.

Always consult your physician before putting ointments or drops in or on your ear. This ensures you are not putting anything irritating in the ear. Also, if you have a damaged eardrum, you should not use any ointments or drops unless your physician specifically prescribes them.

Your physician 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.

How can I prevent itchy ears?

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. 

Content licensed from:

Written by: Rachel Nall, RN, BSN
Medically reviewed on: Nov 01, 2016: Elaine K. Luo, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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