Itchy Ear: 6 Common Causes & What to Do

Medical review: Dr. Clarisse Bezerra
Family Doctor
October 2022

An itchy ear can occur for many reasons that are often easy to resolve. Decreased ear wax production, for example, can lead to dry skin in the ear canal, causing itchy skin. The use of hearing aids or frequently introducing objects, like cotton swabs or ear plugs, can also make ears itchy. 

However, itchy ears can also be a sign of a more serious condition, like an ear infection, psoriasis or dermatitis, which should be assessed by a doctor and treated as necessary. 

Treatment for itchy ears depends on the underlying cause. The doctor may prescribe hydrating and soothing ointments or ear drops, or prescribe medication like corticosteroids, anti-inflammatories or antibiotics. 

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The main causes of itchy ears are: 

1. Decreased ear wax 

Decreased ear wax can lead to dryness within the ear canal, causing itchiness. This is because ear wax contains many lubricating properties, and decreased production of it can lead to dryness, skin peeling and itching in the ear. 

What to do: In most cases, decreased ear wax is occurs from excessive cleaning with cotton swabs, which removes all wax from the ear and making the inner ear more prone to injury. You should clean your ears with the corner of a towel or a wet cotton swab to avoid full removal. 

2. Ear canal dermatitis

Dermatitis is an inflammatory reaction of the skin that causes symptoms like redness, itching and peeling. It can occur following contact with a triggering substance or object. 

What to do: You should identify the substance or object that causes allergies so that contact with it can be avoided. If you experience other symptoms, like redness, increased temperature, skin peeling and/or swelling, you should see a doctor for treatment. The doctor may prescribe antihistamines or corticosteroids, depending on the severity of the dermatitis. 

3. Outer ear infection

An outer ear infection affects the ear canal, and can occur due to the growth of microorganisms within the ear, as well as the introduction of small objects, or frequent use of cotton swabs or earphones. It is associated with inflammation in the ear and other symptoms like pain, itchiness, fever, redness, swelling and white or yellow ear discharge. 

What to do: You should see a doctor to initiate the best treatment, which will depend on the underlying cause. The doctor may recommend medications to promote elimination of discharge in the ear, anti-inflammatories or antibiotics. 

4. Using hearing aids

Using hearing aids can lead to the accumulation of trapped water in the ear, increasing the risk for inflammation and infection in the area. Using hearing aids can increase skin irritation, which causes pressure within the ear canal.

What to do: Hearing aids should be chosen as directed by a hearing aid specialist or doctor. This will guarantee that the equipment selected is adequate for achieving the patient’s goals. You should also provide maintenance to the hearing aids as recommended by the manufacturer to prevent infection and outer ear swelling. Remember to remove them when exercising or showering, and to clean them regularly. 

If you notice water is trapped in the ear, check out these ways to unplug your ears at home. 

5. Objects in the ear canal 

Using irritating objects, like cotton swabs and ear plugs, can cause itchiness and result in serious damage in the ear. 

What to do: To prevent itchiness, you should avoid inserting objects in the ear and opt for other safer options. If you notice ear damage or injury, you should see a doctor for assessment. 

6. Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition characterized by the appearance of red and dry patches that are painful and itchy. In most cases, psoriasis lesions are found on the arms, hands, legs and scalp, however they can also affect the ears and cause similar symptoms. Learn more about what causes psoriasis and the common symptoms associated with it. 

What to do: You should consult a dermatologist to determine the best treatment approach for relieving symptoms and preventing further episodes. The doctor may prescribe topical or oral medications and recommend phototherapy. Diet can also play a role in preventing flare-ups - read more about the psoriasis diet that your doctor may recommend to better manage your symptoms. 

When to see a doctor

Most cases of itchy ears can be resolved without specific treatment. However, if you notice symptoms like bleeding, discharge, pus, or hearing loss, you should see a doctor to determine the underlying problem. 

The doctor should evaluate the signs and symptoms occurring with the itchiness to determine whether the is excessive or insufficient production of ear wax, eczema, psoriasis or an infection. 

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Edited by Tua Saude editing team in October 2022. Medical review completed by Dr. Clarisse Bezerra - Family Doctor in September 2022.

References

  • SIH, TANIA. Otite externa. Available on: <https://cdn.gn1.link/iapo/manuals/VI_Manual_br_Otite%20Externa%20-%20Tania%20Sih.pdf>. Access in 02 Mar 2022
  • SOCIEDADE BRASILEIRA DE MEDICINA DE FAMÍLIA E COMUNIDADE. Otite externa. 2014. Available on: <http://www.sbmfc.org.br/wp-content/uploads/media/NHG%2036%20Otite%20externa.pdf>. Access in 02 Mar 2022
Medical review:
Dr. Clarisse Bezerra
Family Doctor
Dr. Bezerra possesses a medical degree and specializes in family medicine. She is licensed to practice under CRM-CE licence #16976.