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What to Know About Ear Eczema

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 27, 2021

Ear eczema is when you experience itchiness or dry skin around, on, or inside of your ear. Eczema can range from only slightly noticeable to very painful or irritating.

About Ear Eczema

Ear eczema can affect all parts of your ear, including:

  • Your ear lobes
  • The area outside of your ear hole called the conchal bowl
  • The opening of the ear
  • The ear canal
  • Behind your ear
  • Your ear folds
  • Where your ears meet your face

There are several kinds of eczema that can occur on or in the ear, including:

All of these can cause your skin to feel itchy, red, or irritated. Your skin can become inflamed, which may feel uncomfortable or painful. Each type has different causes and treatments.

Eczema on any part of the body is a condition that causes your skin to become dry and itchy. Children tend to experience eczema more often than adults, usually even before they reach one year old. While eczema tends to last for quite a while, it can get better and improve over time.

Signs and Symptoms

Depending on the cause of your ear eczema, you might experience different symptoms. All kinds can cause you to feel pain and itching in or around your ear, depending on the affected area.

Inside the ear. Ear eczema can cause different symptoms inside of your ear canal, the part of your ear that leads to the eardrum. Depending on the type of eczema, you may have a thin discharge coming from your ear canal, along with itchiness or pain. It might swell due to irritation and inflammation. In the most extreme cases, your hearing might be affected.

On or behind the ear. If your eczema is on the outside of your ear, for example, these areas may become dry and flaky. Depending on the type, the skin may become red and itchy, and possibly crack.

Causes of Eczema

Different types of eczema have different causes.

Contact dermatitis. Also called contact eczema, this occurs when your skin comes into contact with something that causes an allergic reaction. This can happen with items that you use every day to which you may suddenly react to. Some common allergens include:

  • Shampoos
  • Makeup and cosmetic products
  • Jewelry
  • Nickel
  • Hearing aids
  • Ear drops

Atopic eczema. People with atopic eczema have skin that is more sensitive than normal. This causes the skin to become dry and itchy and can get infected if the skin is broken. This kind of eczema occurs when the skin can’t hold in enough moisture and dries out. It can cause dermatitis of the ear canal.

Atopic eczema most commonly occurs behind the ear or where the ear lobe meets your face. The skin in these areas can become so dry that they crack.

Otitis externa. Also known as swimmer’s ear, this type of eczema can be caused by water, shampoo, or soap entering and irritating the ear canal. It can also be caused by damage to the skin from scratching or using Q-tips.

Seborrhoeic dermatitis. This occurs in areas of the body with sebaceous glands that produce oil, including the ear. It causes dermatitis of the ear canal. The skin becomes red and crusty.

Asteatotic eczema. This type of eczema usually affects the older population. It can be caused by reactions to changes in weather, like cold temperatures or the wind. They may also become irritated from washing them too much, or from indoor temperature changes as a result of using air conditioning or heating.

Treating Ear Eczema

Once you pinpoint the cause of eczema behind the ear or in it, you can start to treat it. You may need to visit a doctor to help you discover the cause of your ear eczema.

Contact dermatitis can be treated simply by removing the item that’s causing the allergic reaction. It might take some time to discover if your jewelry, cosmetics, or shampoo is causing the reaction. To alleviate the itching, you can apply a topical cream like hydrocortisone.

Atopic, asteatotic, and seborrhoeic eczema may require the application of a medical-grade moisturizer to relieve dryness and itching. Your doctor may prescribe you a topical steroid to apply to eczema behind the ear or on the folds. Depending on the cause, your doctor may also give you an antifungal cream. If your eczema is inside of your ear canal, your doctor can prescribe you steroid ear drops.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Eczema Foundation: “Eczema on the Ears.”

Merck Manual Professional Version: “Dermatitis of the Ear Canal (Chronic Otitis Externa).”

National Eczema Society: “Ear eczema.”

National Eczema Society: “Ear eczema factsheet.”

NHS: “Atopic eczema.”

NHS: “Otitis externa.”

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