Ear mites are a type of mite that lives in the ear canal. These tiny parasites feed off skin oils and ear wax, which explains why they take up residence in the ear.
Ear mites are more commonly found in animals, including family pets like your dog and cat. These mites can jump from animal to animal in close contact situations. There’s also the risk of humans getting ear mites, although this is unlikely.
If your dog or cat has a case of ear mites, here’s how to identify signs and symptoms in you, as well as information on how to treat ear mites in humans.
When ear mites get into a cat or dog’s ear canal, one telltale sign of an ear mite infection is your family pet constantly scratching their head. You may even notice a darkish discharge resembling coffee grounds coming from their ears.
It’s important to identify an ear mite infection in pets as soon as possible. This way, you can get the infection under control and prevent the spread to other family pets and those living in the home.
Just like for animals, an ear mite infection is uncomfortable for people. And just like how ear mites can jump from animal to animal, they can also jump from animal to person.
If you have ear mites in your ear canal, symptoms can include:
Symptoms can vary from person to person. You could develop all of these symptoms or only a few.
Some people with an ear mite infection also have tinnitus. This is a condition characterized by a ringing, buzzing, or humming noise in the ear.
Some people even have a sense of fullness or pressure in the ear. If left untreated, ear mites can damage the ear canal and cause hearing loss.
When ear mites occur in humans, the most likely cause of infection is transmission from a family pet. Ear mites need a host to survive, so it’s not uncommon for mites to hop from animal to animal and person to person.
Infections are more likely, though, when there’s close contact with a pet who has an infection. This close contact can occur if you share a bed with your pet, or if you allow your pet on the furniture.
If your pet has ear mites, these mites can travel to your bedding and furniture and then attach themselves to you — a human host.
Keep in mind you don’t have to have an animal of your own to get ear mites. You can develop an infection if you come in close contact with anyone’s pet who has ear mites.
You might visit someone’s home and sit on a couch infested with ear mites. You might even get ear mites from playing with an animal with an infection.
To diagnose ear mites, you can start by making an appointment with your family doctor. They will likely refer you to an ear, nose, and throat specialist.
Your doctor can take a swab sample from your ear and complete an otoscope examination. This is a tool used to examine deep inside the ear canal. These tests can check for any abnormalities in the ear, as well as confirm or rule out the presence of ear mites.
Since ear mites feed off skin oils and ear wax, treatment usually starts with your doctor flushing out your ear canal with a saline solution to remove any wax buildup.
Afterward, your doctor may prescribe special ear drops containing the ingredients:
- triamcinolone acetonide
These ingredients can relieve itching, infection, or inflammation in the ear.
Some people have also had good results using acetic acid in the ear, which can stop the growth of fungi and bacteria. Treating an ear mite infection also involves killing live mites and their eggs, so your doctor will prescribe an antiparasitic ear drop.
Also, an ear mite infection can sometimes lead to a secondary bacterial infection. In this case, your doctor may need to prescribe antibiotics. Take the antibiotic as directed to prevent a recurrent infection.
One of the best ways to avoid getting ear mites is to keep a close eye on your family pets. Recognizing the first signs of an ear mite infection in animals can protect you and others in the household. Although human transmission is rare, it’s still possible.
If you notice a dark discharge from your animal’s ears or frequent head-scratching, see your veterinarian immediately.
Your veterinarian can examine your pet’s ear canal for the presence of mites. If there’s an infection, your vet will thoroughly clean their ear and then prescribe medication to treat the infection. This can include antiparasitic treatments like selamectin and moxidectin or imidacloprid.
Also ask your vet about preventive measures for future infections, such as giving your dog a monthly antiparasitic application.
If your pet has an infection, make sure you keep other family pets separate. You can also protect yourself by not sharing a bed or furniture with your pet. This is especially the case while they’re undergoing treatment.
Sanitize and wash any items your pet uses on a regular basis, such as chew toys and their bedding.
An ear mite infection can be an irritating problem, especially if you’re dealing with severe itchiness, tinnitus, or a feeling of pressure or fullness in your ear.
If you develop any of these symptoms, see your doctor right away. Also check your pet for signs of ear mites and make an appointment with their vet.
Animal-to-human transmission is unlikely, but it can happen. The sooner you see a doctor and receive ear drops, the sooner you can kill live ear mites and their eggs.