Why Do My Ears Itch?

Can’t stop scratching your ears? An itchy ear canal (the tube that connects your outer ear to your eardrum) happens to people of all ages. How you can get relief will depend on what’s making you scratch.

No matter the cause of your itch, it’s never a good idea to stick any objects in your ears. You could damage your inner ear, including the tiny bones that help you hear.

Some reasons for itchy ears include:

Earwax buildup. Wax is your body’s way of cleaning dead skin cells and dirt out of your ears, but too much of it can make them itch.

Don’t be tempted to try to remove the buildup with a cotton swab. That pushes the wax deeper inside, where it can get stuck. Instead, try over-the-counter ear drops that break up the wax. If that doesn’t help, see your doctor. They can use a special tool to safely remove built-up wax.

But don’t overdo it. Ears can also get itchy if they don’t have enough wax inside them.

Infections. Itchy ears can sometimes be a sign of an ear infection. Bacteria and viruses cause them, usually when you have a cold, the flu, or allergies. One kind, swimmer’s ear, can happen when water stays in your ear after you swim. Too much moisture wears away your ear canal’s natural layer of defense against germs.

To stop the itch, you’ll need to treat the infection. Some may go away on their own, but your doctor could prescribe ear drops. You may need to take them a few times a day for a week. Other infections may need a course of antibiotics.

Skin allergies. The skin inside your ears can itch because of an allergic reaction. A beauty product like hair spray or shampoo could be the culprit. So can products that have nickel, like earrings. Plastic, rubber, or metal you put inside your ears, like earbuds or a hearing aid, can also cause a rash called contact dermatitis.

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To get relief, you’ll need to figure out what you’re allergic to and stop using it. Until then, your doctor may prescribe a steroid cream to stop your urge to scratch.

Eczema or psoriasis. If you have these skin conditions, you may be prone to itchy ear canals. You can usually treat these problems with ear drops. In severe cases, you may also need to take steroid pills.

Cleaning your ears. Putting cotton swabs into your ears can inflame your ear canal and leave you itching. Bobby pins, paper clips, matchsticks, and your fingers can also scratch the skin inside your ears, making it easy for bacteria to enter and cause an infection.

Food allergies. If you have hay fever or a pollen allergy, your ears may itch when you eat certain fruits, vegetables, or tree nuts. Known as oral allergy syndrome, you may notice this most during allergy season.

The prickly feeling in your ears should stop as soon as you swallow the food or take it out of your mouth. In most cases, you don’t need treatment. Still, speak to your doctor. She may test you to see how severe your allergy is. People with extreme food allergies may need to carry an epinephrine auto-injector.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on September 24, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

National Eczema Society: “Fact Sheet: Ear Eczema.”

NHS Choices: “Otitis externa.”

University of Texas McGovern Medical School Department of Otorhinolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery: “Patient Care: Itchy Ears.”

Mayo Clinic: “Ear Infections.”

Merck Manual: “Consumer Version: Dermatitis of the Ear Canal.”

American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: “Oral Allergy Syndrome.”

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: “Oral Allergy Syndrome.”

American Family Physician: “Otitis Externa: A Practical Guide to Treatment and Prevention.”

American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery: “Experts Update Best Practices for Diagnosis and Treatment of Ear Wax (Cerumen Impaction): Important Patient Education on Healthy Ear Care.”

National Psoriasis Foundation: “Psoriasis on the Face.”

The Journal of Pediatrics, “Pediatric Cotton-Tip Applicator-Related Ear Injury Treated in United States Emergency Departments, 1990-2010.”

DermNet New Zealand, “Otitis Externa.”

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