What is eczema?
Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is a common skin condition that makes your skin red and itchy. You can develop it just about anywhere, including on your ear and in your ear canal. There are several types of eczema, identified by the underlying cause. Most of them can affect your ears in addition to the rest of your body.
Keep reading to learn more about the different types of ear eczema and how to treat them.
What are the symptoms?
The main symptoms of eczema are patches of skin that are:
- extremely dry
In ear eczema, you may also experience clear discharge from your ear.
These symptoms are often worse during very dry weather. You might also notice them more in winter months, when indoor heating makes the air inside drier than usual.
Ear eczema can affect the skin of your ear as well as the area behind your ear and the fold between your earlobe and face. In some cases, it can also affect your ear canal, which runs from your eardrum to your ear’s opening.
What causes it?
The cause of ear eczema depends on what type of eczema it is. There are three types of eczema that can affect your ears, which include:
Allergic eczema results from contact with an irritant or something you’re allergic to. Common irritants that can cause ear eczema include:
- hair products
- other personal care products
Older people are more likely to have this type of eczema, which happens when your skin is exposed to changes in the weather. Several factors can make it worse, including overwashing, indoor heating, and windy conditions.
Seborrheic eczema tends to happen to oily areas of your body, including your scalp. It can also affect your ears, especially the skin behind them. Doctors aren’t sure what causes it, but it could be related to a fungus in the oil secreted by the glands in your skin or an immune system response.
How is it diagnosed?
Your doctor can usually diagnose ear eczema by doing a basic examination of your ears. They may also use a light to look inside your ears to check for any irritation of your external ear canal.
Depending on your symptoms and medical history, they may also do a biopsy. This involves taking a small sample of skin cells from the affected area and looking at it under a microscope. A biopsy of the skin tissue of your ear can help your doctor rule out similar conditions, such as psoriasis.
How is it treated?
Treating ear eczema depends on both the underlying cause and area it affects. If you have allergic eczema, you might need to stop using certain products or wearing earrings, to narrow down what’s causing the irritation. If you still can’t figure out what’s causing it, you may need to undergo allergy testing.
If you have seborrheic eczema, you may need to apply an antifungal ointment to the affected part of your ear. Your doctor might also prescribe a topical steroid to reduce inflammation, especially if the skin behind your ear is affected. If you have symptoms in your external ear canal, your doctor can prescribe steroid ear drops.
It’s important to keep the area moisturized, regardless of the type of eczema you have. Avoid using harsh soaps and cleansers around your ears, which can dry out your skin and make your symptoms worse.
Instead, look for a gentle cleanser. Shop for one designed for eczema-prone skin. You should then follow up with a moisturizer that contains colloidal oatmeal. Try one like this. Colloidal oatmeal is a natural anti-inflammatory with proven benefits for protecting and soothing dry, irritated skin.
Try to stick with products that have the seal of acceptance by the National Eczema Association. These products have been evaluated to ensure they don’t contain any known skin irritants, which can make eczema worse. Regardless of the products you choose, make sure you don’t use any long objects, like a cotton swab, to apply them to the inside of your ear.
You should only use ear drops for eczema in your ear canal.
Signs of infection
Over time, dryness and irritation from scratching can cause cracks in your skin, increasing your risk of developing infected eczema. If this happens, wax, hair, and skin can build up in your ear canal, leading to ear infections or hearing issues.
Contact your doctor right away if you notice:
- an aching pain in your ear
- yellow or green discharge from your ear
- unusual redness
- flu-like symptoms
If you develop infected eczema, you’ll likely need a combination of antibiotics and topical steroids to clear up your symptoms.
What’s the outlook?
Ear eczema is a common condition that’s usually easy to treat, but it may take some time for your skin to calm down. If your symptoms are severe, or you’ve never had eczema before, make an appointment with your doctor to rule out any other conditions.
You may also need a topical steroid cream to control inflammation while you heal. Whether you need medical treatment or not, make sure to keep your ears moisturized while they heal.
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