The ears are highly sensitive, so they may itch even without a specific cause. Other causes of itchy ears range from earwax buildup to infections to allergies.
The ears may be pretty small compared to an arm or a leg, but they’re full of sensitive neurological fibers. As a result, the ears are subject to their fair share of itching. You might have chronically itchy ears simply because the ears are highly sensitive.
Itchy ears can also indicate an underlying medical condition. By understanding some of the causes of itchy ears, you can better determine how to find relief.
Itchy ears can be the result of a number of causes.
Dry skin in the ears
If your ears don’t produce enough wax, your ear skin can become dry and itchy.
Earwax has lubricating effects. Its absence can cause your skin to itch. You may even notice flaking skin coming from the ear.
Conditions that cause itchy skin
In rare cases, conditions that cause itchy skin elsewhere on the body can affect the ears as well. They include psoriasis and eczema, which is also known as atopic dermatitis.
You may also develop a rash if you have one of these conditions.
On the other hand, a buildup of earwax can also lead to symptoms such as itchy ears and irritation. Earwax buildup is also known as cerumen impaction.
Ear canal dermatitis
This condition occurs when the skin in and around your ear canal becomes inflamed. Dermatitis is another term for skin inflammation.
Ear canal dermatitis can be the result of an allergic reaction to products in or near your ear, such as personal care products or metal in your earrings.
Aural eczematoid dermatitis is another type of dermatitis in the ear. Experts don’t know what causes it.
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.
Otitis externa (outer ear infection)
Otitis externa is an infection of the outer ear canal. It can be fungal or bacterial.
It can cause pain as well as itching. It’s an inflammatory condition, so it can lead to redness and swelling too.
Otitis externa is primarily associated with excess moisture. It’s also known as swimmer’s ear.
- ear trauma
- ear irritation from items such as cotton swabs or headphones
- an excess amount of water in the outer ear canal, which can occur during swimming or even showering
The excess water makes it easier for bacteria or fungi to grow.
Fungal ear infection
Otomycosis is a type of fungal infection that affects the outer ear. It’s closely associated with the genus Aspergillus, but Candida is another common culprit.
People at a higher risk of otomycosis include those who:
- live in hot, humid environments, including tropical or subtropical countries
- have inadequate hygiene
- have a condition that affects the immune system, such as diabetes
- overuse antibiotic ear drops
Otitis media (middle ear infection)
You may develop a middle ear infection if your eardrum ruptures or you have ear tubes to help prevent drainage. This type of ear infection can also cause itching.
As mentioned above, your ears may itch if they come into contact with products you’re allergic to, such as:
- shampoos, conditioners, and other personal care products
- hearing aids
Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, can also cause itchy skin. So can food allergies and drug allergies. However, true drug allergies are rare.
Symptoms that may appear along with itchy ears include:
- an itchy throat
- skin redness or other forms of skin discoloration
- ringing in the ears
- the feeling that your ears are clogged
If you have a type of infection, itchy ears may also be accompanied by symptoms such as:
- swollen ears
- drainage or discharge from the ear, such as pus
- muffled hearing
Seek immediate medical attention if you’re experiencing severe bleeding or drainage from your ears or if you suddenly have hearing loss.
Also, seek medical help if your symptoms don’t improve with time or home care.
A healthcare professional will likely examine your ears and take a medical history to help them identify potential causes. They’ll look for any telltale rashes, such as eczema-like patches. They may also look for excess earwax or earwax very close to the eardrum, which can cause itching.
To pinpoint the cause, a healthcare professional will likely ask about other symptoms, such as fever, and when those symptoms began.
Itchy ears are typically the result of a breakdown in the health of your ear skin. Treatment usually seeks to correct these breakdowns.
A doctor may recommend or prescribe the following:
- baby oil to soften the skin
- oral antibiotics to treat an infection, if you also have a high temperature or blood or pus draining from the ear
- an antibiotic ointment, such as Bacitracin or Neosporin
- a steroid ointment to relieve inflammation, such as 1% hydrocortisone cream (Ala-Cort) or 0.1% betamethasone cream (BetaVal, Valnac)
- swimmer’s ear drops, if you have otitis externa
- a combination of eardrops and oral antibiotics, if you have a middle ear infection plus rupture
Always speak with a doctor before using ointments or ear drops. This will ensure you’re not putting anything irritating in the ear. Also, if you have a damaged eardrum, do not use ointments or ear drops unless a doctor prescribes them.
Also, avoid scratching your ears. Scratching will probably make your ears feel worse.
Consider scheduling regular appointments with a doctor so they can safely clean your ears. They can remove excess earwax while also minimizing trauma to the area.
If you do not already have a primary care doctor, you can browse doctors in your area through the Healthline FindCare tool.
To prevent irritation, avoid cleaning your ears with objects such as:
- cotton swabs
- cotton balls
- paper clips
- bobby pins
Here are other tips to avoid itchy ears and irritation:
- If your ears produce excess earwax, you may want to keep your earwax at a manageable level by using doctor-approved approaches, such as ear drops or a bulb syringe.
- Refrain from using any personal care products that might have caused your itchy ears in the past.
- Opt for antiallergic jewelry.
- If you swim frequently, use a solution (such as rubbing alcohol) to dry up excess water in the ear canal.