Do you have itchy ears? An itch you can’t scratch can drive you nuts, and many people resort to sticking all kinds of things in their ear canals to get some relief, but that’s a bad idea.
Before you do anything that might cause permanent damage to your ears, read up on some of the common causes of itchy ears and how you can treat them.
What Causes Itchy Ears
Your ears become itchy when there is an imbalance in the environment. In other words, you’ll feel ear irritation when they’re too moist or too dry.
Itchy ears are typically a symptom of another condition.
Usually, it’s something minor that you can easily treat with home remedies, over-the-counter medications or changes to your habits.
Ears produce a coat of protective earwax. Excess earwax irritates your delicate ear skin and leads to temporary hearing loss.
When large wax deposits shift inside your ear canal, it can cause an itchy ear, and the sensation will become more pronounced as dead skin accumulates around the earwax blockage.
Various middle-ear infections make your ears itch. One of the most common culprits is fungus, which develops in humid environments.
Your immune response to a fungal ear infection sometimes creates a tingling in your ear canal.
People with weakened immunes systems or those who just underwent antibiotic treatment are at greater risk of fungal infection.
You can also develop an outer ear infection known as otitis externa.
The flu can also cause itching ears by blocking the Eustachian tube. A bacterial ear infection like swimmer’s ear can have the same effect. These are normal immune reactions to microbes in the ear.
Itchy ears could be caused by food allergies or an allergic reaction to latex, paints, certain metals and beauty products.
Itchiness is typically the first sign of an allergic reaction because your body’s core allergic response is inflammatory.
Your ears will turn red and itchy. This also happens with seasonal allergies like hay fever and pollen.
Many conditions that cause dry skin affect the ear, too. The sensitive skin inside your ear is particularly vulnerable, so it’s usually the first place that gets itchy.
One of the underlying skin conditions that give you itchy ears is seborrheic dermatitis. That’s when your sebaceous glands don’t produce enough oil, leaving the skin dry, flaky and prone to irritation.
Various forms of eczema also cause the skin to become itchy. Psoriasis causes highly itchy skin rashes that make you feel an intense need to scratch.
Hearing Aids and Earbuds
If you wear a hearing aid or in-ear headphones, that could be what’s making your ears itch. Hearing aids and earbuds interfere with the ear’s self-cleaning mechanism.
A hearing aid blocks the flow of air, which traps moisture inside the ear and promotes bacterial growth.
A hearing aid can chafe the inside of the Eustachian tube, causing itchiness and pain. Grit and filth attached to a dirty hearing aid or earbud are sources of irritation, as well. Some people are also allergic to the material that the devices are made from.
If you’ve recently had a trim, a stray hair could be what’s giving you itchy ears. Strands of loose hair can fall into the ear canal, causing an itching sensation within the ear. This is especially common in men.
Sometimes after a swim, excess water can get trapped inside the inner ear. This trapped water can also make your ears itchy.
It’s not uncommon for foreign bodies to get lodged in the ear canal. This is most often an issue with toddlers, who stick things like toys and random objects in their ears, but adults can have this problem too.
Abrasions or Ear Trauma
Itchiness could be the result of minor trauma to your inner ear. Using cotton swabs to clean your ear can cause scratches or cuts on your sensitive ear skin. That’s why doctors don’t recommend using a cotton swab to clean your ears.
Treating Itchy Ears
The treatment of itchy ears depends on the cause. Simple home remedies or over-the-counter drugs can address most root causes. However, in some cases, you may need prescription medications or outpatient therapies.
If earwax is to blame, you need to clear out the blockage. Drug stores sell home kits with ear drops to break up the wax and a bulb syringe to blast it out with warm water. In more severe cases, you may need to see a specialist who will use suction.
Doctors use topical therapy to treat ear infections, but it depends on the condition of your eardrum.
If your eardrum is healthy, simply flushing the ear canal with a solution of rubbing alcohol and vinegar three times a day will clear debris and microbes.
You’ll need to ask your healthcare provider before trying this, but once you get the go-ahead, follow these steps:
- Mix a solution that is one part alcohol and one part vinegar
- Warm the diluted alcohol, and pour it into your palm
- Draw the liquid using a bulb syringe and point it upwards into the ear canal
- With a towel underneath, flush the ear, and the debris will exit the ear onto the towel
- Clean the outer ear with warm water to clear away any earwax residue
People with compromised eardrums need a gentler solution that doesn’t harm the inner ear. A few drops of clotrimazole solution three times daily for up to 10 days can help.
Some doctors will also use boric acid or nystatin ear drops. Others will apply a steroid-like triamcinolone cream in the ear canal after cleaning. Irrigating the ear at home will significantly relieve itching.
Allergies and Skin Conditions
If an allergic reaction is making your ears itch, doctors prescribe antihistamines for allergic reactions and epinephrine in severe cases. Of course, avoiding the allergen always helps.
If the root cause of your itch is a skin condition, you’ll have to treat the problem as a whole, but you’ll also need to apply some specific treatments to your ears.
Doctors recommend medical moisturizers for seborrheic dermatitis, and you should wash the outer ear with warm water nightly to prevent dryness.
Psoriasis in the ears needs extra care. Your doctor can prescribe a medication like tazarotene for the scaling along with a steroid cream.
Steroids should only be used as a short-term therapy because they can increase the parasitic and microbial burden.
You’ll also want to take vitamin D, and light therapy can help.
Treating Other Causes
If you have loose hair causing a tickle in your ear, you may need a specialist to remove it with the help of an otoscope.
Preventing itchiness from hearing aids and other in-ear devices could be as simple as adjusting the fit. You can have your hearing aid custom-fitted by your hearing care provider, and many earbuds come with a range of earpiece sizes you can try.
How to Prevent Itchy Ears
There are some simple steps you can take to achieve healthy and itch-free ears:
- Wear earplugs when you swim to avoid swimmer’s ear
- Get your ears tested annually by a hearing professional
- Periodically remove earwax with ear drops and warm water
- Avoid cleaning with a cotton swab, which can push earwax deeper into your ear canal
- Be conscious of contact with potential allergens
- Use an antihistamine if you have seasonal allergies
When Should You Get Medical Treatment?
While an itch in your ear is usually nothing to worry about, ear pain and itchy ears might signify more serious conditions, such as cancer and parasitic infections.
If your itch persists for more than two weeks and none of the treatments listed above help, it may be time to seek medical attention. Make an appointment to see your doctor rights away.
If your itch is accompanied by other symptoms of hearing loss, like trouble hearing conversations, you may need to sign up for a hearing test or a comprehensive hearing health survey.
1. Djalilian, Hamid R. MD Symptom, The Hearing Journal: September 2014 – Volume 67 – Issue 9 – p 8,10,11 doi: 10.1097/01.HJ.0000454618.01704.7b