Should I be concerned?
Itchy ears and a scratchy throat can be signs of a few different conditions, including allergies and the common cold. Usually these symptoms are no cause for concern, and you can treat them right at home. However, some symptoms that go along with itchy ears and throat signal a more serious condition.
Here are some possible causes for itchy ears, tips for relief, and when to call your doctor.
Possible cause #1: Allergic rhinitis
Allergic rhinitis is better known by its other name: hay fever. It starts when your immune system reacts to something in the environment that isn’t normally harmful.
This reaction produces chemicals that trigger allergy symptoms.
In addition to causing itchy ears and throat, allergic rhinitis can cause these symptoms:
Possible cause #2: Food allergies
An estimated 4 to 6 percent of children and 4 percent of adults have food allergies. Like seasonal allergies, food allergies arise when the immune system goes into overdrive when exposed to an allergen such as peanuts, eggs, or other foods. Food allergy symptoms range from mild to severe.
Common food allergy symptoms include:
Some allergies are severe enough to cause a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- shortness of breath
- swelling of the mouth
- trouble swallowing
- tightness in the throat
- rapid heartbeat
If you think you’re having an anaphylactic reaction, call your local emergency services or go to the emergency room immediately.
A few foods account for 90 percent of allergies:
Certain fruits, vegetables, and tree nuts contain a protein that’s similar to the allergens in pollen. If you’re allergic to pollen, these foods can cause a reaction called oral allergy syndrome.
These trigger foods include:
In addition to itchy ears, symptoms of oral allergy syndrome include:
- itchy mouth
- scratchy throat
- swelling of the mouth, tongue, and throat
Some children outgrow allergies to foods like eggs, soy, and cow’s milk. Other food allergies — like to peanuts and tree nuts — can stick with you for a lifetime.
Possible cause #3: Drug allergies
Many drugs can cause side effects, but only about 5 to 10 percent of reactions to medicines are true allergies. Just like with other types of allergies, drug allergies happen when your immune system reacts to medicine in the same way it would to germs.
Most allergic reactions happen within a few hours or days after you take the medicine.
Symptoms of a drug allergy include:
- skin rash
- trouble breathing
A severe drug allergy can cause anaphylaxis, with symptoms like:
- swelling of your face or throat
Call your doctor if you have symptoms of a drug allergy. If you do have an allergy, you may need to discontinue use of the medicine. If you think you’re having an anaphylactic reaction, call your local emergency services or go to an emergency room immediately.
Possible cause #4: Common cold
Many different viruses cause colds. They spread when someone who’s infected coughs or sneezes droplets containing the virus into the air.
Colds aren’t serious, but they can be annoying. They’ll usually sideline you for a few days with symptoms like these:
How to treat your symptoms
You can treat mild cold and allergy symptoms yourself with over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, decongestants, and antihistamines. To relieve the itch, try an oral or cream antihistamine.
Popular antihistamines include:
Although oral antihistamines are more common, the same brands often offer topical formulas.
Lingering or more severe symptoms warrant a call to your doctor.
Here’s a rundown of treatments by condition.
How to treat allergic rhinitis
An allergist can do a skin or blood test to find out which substances set off your symptoms.
You can prevent symptoms by staying away from your triggers:
- Put a dust mite-proof cover on your bed. Wash your sheets and other linens in hot water — above 130°F. Vacuum upholstered furniture, carpets, and curtains.
- Stay indoors when pollen counts are high. Keep your windows closed and your air conditioning on.
- Don’t smoke, and stay far away from anyone who is smoking.
- Don’t allow your pets in your bedroom.
- Keep the humidity in your home set at or below 50 percent to discourage mold growth. Clean any mold you do find with a mixture of water and chlorine bleach.
You can manage allergy symptoms with over-the-counter decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) or antihistamines, such as loratadine (Zyrtec). These medicines come in pills, eye drops, and nasal sprays.
If allergy medicines aren’t strong enough, see an allergist. They may recommend shots called immunotherapy, which gradually stop your body from reacting.
How to treat food allergies
If you often react to certain foods, see an allergist. Skin prick tests can confirm which food or foods trigger your allergies.
Once you’ve identified the food in question, you’ll want to avoid it. Check the ingredient list of every food you buy. If you have a severe allergy to any food, carry around an epinephrine auto-injector, or an EpiPen, in case of a severe reaction.
How to treat drug allergies
Call your doctor if you have symptoms of a drug allergy. Your doctor might suggest that you cease taking the medicine. Get medical help right away for symptoms of anaphylaxis, such as wheezing, shortness of breath, and swelling of your face or throat.
How to treat a cold
No cure for the common cold exists, but you can relieve some of your symptoms with:
- over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil)
- decongestant pills or nasal sprays, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed)
- combination cold medicines, such as dextromethorphan (Delsym)
Most colds will clear up on their own within seven to 10 days. If your symptoms last longer than two weeks or they get worse, call your doctor.
When to see your doctor
Call your doctor if your symptoms last for more than 10 days or worsen with time, and get medical help immediately for these more serious symptoms:
- shortness of breath
- severe headache or sore throat
- swelling of your face
- trouble swallowing
Your doctor can do a blood test or throat swab to find out if you have a bacterial infection that needs to be treated with antibiotics. If your doctor suspects you have allergies, you may get referred to an allergist for skin and blood tests or an ear, nose, and throat doctor.