Itchy Ear: Causes, Symptoms, and How to Get Relief

March 8, 2022 by Michelle Harris

Itchy Ear: Causes, Symptoms, and How to Get Relief

There aren’t many things more annoying than itching, especially if you can’t reach the itchy area or the itching never stops. In fact, studies have shown that 1 in 5 people will have chronic itching within their lifetime. You may also be surprised to learn that 39 percent of people who use earmolds experience itchy ears. Fortunately, many found the itchiness went away on its own after they got used to the ear molds. In other cases of ear itch, the cause may be more chronic and problematic.

In most cases, itchy ear might be a temporary nuisance. However, constant itching could lead to an infection or signify a more serious condition. As such, it’s essential to understand the causes and symptoms of itchy ears and ways to get relief before getting worse.

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What is Itchy Ear?

When you have an irritating tingle or sensation that creates the urge to rub or scratch, you may have itchy ear. Itchy skin (also known as pruritus) can happen on a small part of the body or all over the body. When localized on or in the ear, the uncomfortable feeling could be temporary or last for a long time. In some cases, ear itches can be very annoying or overwhelming.

In general, itching is simply a minor discomfort. However, itchy ears could also be a sign of an underlying medical condition. In addition, excessive scratching could lead to inflamed or infected ears. 

Causes of Itchy Ear

There are many reasons you may find yourself with itchy ears. You can experience itching on the outer and inner parts of your ear, as well as behind them. The location can give you clues to why they itch. 

Dry Skin on the Ear

Dry skin (also called xerosis or xeroderma) is a common culprit for itchiness. The skin should contain at least 10 percent water to feel soft and have a normal stretch. Anything less, and your body will feel rough and dry. 

Although it’s more common to have dry skin on your legs and feet, don’t be surprised if the outside of your ear itches too. Dry, itchy skin can be caused by anything from the environment to hair products to medications, or simply aging.

Environment

  • Dry air
  • Indoor heaters
  • Sun damage
  • Windy weather
  • Cold temperatures
  • Long, hot showers

Chemicals

  • Magnesium and calcium in hard tap water
  • Chlorine in swimming pools

Consumer Products

  • Harsh soaps and skin cleansers
  • Shampoos and conditioners
  • Hairsprays, gels, and mousses
  • Lotions and moisturizers
  • Perfumes and colognes

Medications

  • Statins
  • Diuretics
  • Cancer treatments
  • Acne medicine (salicylic acids)
  • Retinol

Medical Conditions

  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Vitamin deficiency
  • Genetics
  • Aging

Ear Dermatitis, Ear Eczema, and Psoriasis

Ear dermatitis (irritation of the skin) and ear eczema (inflammation of the skin) appear at the ear folds, behind the ear, and between the earlobe and face. However, irritated and inflamed areas can appear anywhere, including the ear opening, ear canal, earlobe, and even the eardrums. 

Compared to other conditions, eczema can cause more extreme itching. As a result, many people with eczema scratch so hard their ears bleed. Several types of dermatitis can occur. They vary depending on the cause, location, and appearance of the itchiness.

  • Ear eczema (atopic dermatitis) – caused by abnormally sensitive skin 
  • Seborrheic dermatitis – caused by a fungus near oil glands
  • Asteatotic eczema – caused by temperature changes or excessive washing
  • Contact dermatitis – caused by a substance that touches the skin
  • Psoriasis – caused by skin cells that too grow too fast and buildup

Ear Infections

When your ears itch, it could be a sign that you have an ear infection. There are many causes of ear infections. Most ear infections come from upper respiratory conditions or moisture in the ear.

  • Colds or flu – caused by a virus
  • Pneumonia – caused by a virus, bacteria or fungus
  • Sinusitis – caused by a virus or bacteria
  • Swimmer’s ear (otitis externa) – caused by a fungus or bacteria

Ear Wax Buildup

Your ear produces protective wax from glands located inside the ear canal. This is nature’s way of cleaning dirt, bacteria, and dead skin cells out of your ear. Usually, the wax makes its way to the ear opening, where it falls out or is wiped clean.  

Occasionally, ear wax can build up in the ear canal. This blocks the ear canal, causing the ears to be itchy. In severe cases, the wax can become hardened and difficult to remove, which can lead to hearing loss.

Allergies and Sensitivities

Some people are allergic to certain substances. When touched or eaten, the body's immune system may react. This can lead to itchy ear and other symptoms.  

  • Jewelry sensitivities – caused by nickel and other materials in earrings
  • Hay fever – caused by allergies to pollen, trees, grass, and weeds 
  • Food allergies – caused by certain foods, including vegetables, fruits, and nuts

Insect Bites on the Ear

Insect bites are another common cause of itchiness in the ear. When you get bitten by specific bugs, it’s natural for that area of your body to itch. If you’re sensitive or allergic to a particular type of bug, your symptoms may be more intense. Some of the insects most notorious for itchy bites include:

  • Mosquitoes
  • Fleas
  • Chiggers and other mites
  • Head lice
  • Bed bugs
  • Kissing bugs
  • Sand fleas (“no-see-ums”) and other flies

Anxiety

Anxiety can happen to anyone and cause the body to respond to stress. This can lead to a burning or itching sensation on the skin. Anxiety-related itching (psychogenic itch) often leads to nervous habits, including scratching the arms, legs, face, scalp, and ears. People with anxiety may experience itching at the same time as other symptoms, or by itself.

Hearing Devices

Various devices worn on your ears can also be the culprit. Earbuds and ear molds can cause irritation from rubbing. They can also block the ear canal, resulting in a buildup of moisture and ear wax.

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Symptoms of Itchy Ear

Symptoms of itchy ear vary widely depending on the cause. Itching will likely be the most noticeable symptom telling you something may be off about your ear. In addition, you may find other clues as to why your ear itches.

  • Itching outside or inside the ear
  • Rough, dry skin
  • White flakes
  • Bumps or blisters
  • Leathery or scaly rash
  • Crusty ears
  • Scratch marks
  • Red or swollen skin
  • Cracked and bleeding skin
  • Drainage from ear
  • Fever (from infection)

Hearing loss isn’t considered a symptom of itchy ear. However, itchy ears could be caused by a buildup of wax and ear infections. If you’ve been having trouble hearing, such as watching TV, talking on the phone, or during conversations, you should have your ears checked and your hearing tested.

If you’ve already had your itchy ears checked and treated, you can take a free online hearing test right now from the comfort of your home!

Itchy Ear Treatments

In many cases, scratching isn’t enough to stop your ears from itching. When that happens, and the itching continues, you may need to take more drastic measures. The best way to treat and prevent itchy ears is to find out the underlying cause. Once you know the reason for your itchiness, you’ll be able to choose the most appropriate and effective treatment for fast relief.

Avoidance
Discontinue the use of irritating hair and skin products and find alternative products, such as those for sensitive skin. Remove nickel-based jewelry and replace with alternatives made of hypoallergenic or pure metals (e.g., silver, gold, stainless steel, titanium). Also, limit showers to 10 minutes and avoid using very hot water.

Skin Moisturizers
Use skin moisturizers like baby oil, lotions, and creams that don’t contain artificial colors and fragrances. Moisturizers containing ceramides, lipids, Vitamin A, and Vitamin C can help restore moisture and protect the skin from further dryness and itchiness.

Moisture and Ear Wax Removal
It's vital to get water out of your ears and remove wax buildup to treat and prevent itchiness and related issues. Use over-the-counter ear drops and ear wax removal kits to address symptoms. You can prevent swimmer’s ear by wearing earplugs while swimming and a shower cap while bathing. 

If you have a severe wax buildup, it’s best to visit an ENT for removal. Never use ear candles or objects such as cotton swabs inside your ear. These remedies can actually damage the eardrum and cause hearing loss. 

Clean Hearing Devices
Keep earbuds, headphones, listening devices, and hearing aid supplies clean and dry. Take short breaks and remove excess moisture before putting them back on during extended use. You may also find alternative devices with more breathable earpieces.   

Medications
Different medications can help with itching, pain, and irritation of the ears. These include topical steroids (e.g., hydrocortisone) available over-the-counter or as a prescription from your doctor. If your ear has become infected, you may need to be treated with antibiotics taken orally (e.g., amoxicillin) or applied to the skin (e.g., Neosporin).

Phototherapy
A dermatologist can use ultraviolet (UV) rays to help control itchiness and other symptoms. Phototherapy is usually treatment for people diagnosed with psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis. 

If your itchy ears are persistent and nothing seems to help at home, you may need professional assistance. In the event of a fever, an earache, bleeding or discharge coming from your ear, you should seek immediate medical help.

Seek Medical Assistance

Due to the location and nature of ears, itching is a common occurrence. Itchy ear can be a temporary annoyance, a long-term discomfort, and even a chronic painful condition. 

Getting to the bottom of what’s causing the itch is the first step to finding relief. It could be as simple as keeping moisture from your ears, or as complex as extensive treatment from a clinic or physician. In most cases, it’s nothing to be overly worried about. Still, you should always rule out any underlying medical conditions that can make matters worse and lead to ear infections and hearing loss.

Millions of people of all ages have hearing loss, which is more common than you might think. While some types of hearing loss can be treated, others are permanent. Hearing aids can be a great way to hear better and improve your quality of life if your hearing loss is untreatable. At MDHearingAid, we offer a high-quality selection of FDA-registered hearing aids. Our medical-grade devices are shipped for free right to your doorstep and come with a 45-day risk-free trial.

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