An itch in the ear can feel overwhelming and distracting; even though the itchy area might be small, it can be very bothersome, and can be particularly maddening because you may not be able to scratch it.
What’s making your ear itch?
If you’re being plagued with itchy ears, the first thing to do is to find out why it’s itching! It could be a number of things, and you may need different strategies according to what the problem is.
Itch in the outer ear
If the itch is on the outer part of your ear, it could be down to friction (poorly fitting hearing aids, glasses, PPE, headsets or headphones) or dry skin conditions like dermatitis or psoriasis. It’s also possible that you’ve got a skin infection, in which case it might feel hot, swollen or painful.
Each possible cause will need different management, whether that’s adjusting the fit on headphones or moisturising eczema. If your skin is infected, consult a pharmacist or your GP for appropriate treatment, as it may need antibiotics.
Itch in the inner ear
Things get a little tricker if the itch is in your ear canal, because that’s both harder to itch and harder to treat. One thing you should never do is poke anything at all into your ear canal, especially not in order to relieve an itch!
So, what could be causing the itch, and what can you do about it? Here are some possible causes for itchy ears.
Ear canal dermatitis
Like the outer ear, the ear canal is susceptible to contact dermatitis, which can cause inflammation, swelling, itchiness and pain. It could be that your skin is reacting to something it’s touched. This could be things like nickel jewellery, shampoo, shower gel, moisturisers, etc.
Ears produce wax to lubricate themselves and carry foreign bodies safely out of the ear canal; if for some reason your ears don’t produce enough wax, it can make the skin of the ear canal dry and itchy.
Other skin conditions
Some chronic skin conditions, such as seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis, cause problems with the way your skin barrier works, causing skin to get inflamed and flaky. A build-up of flakes combined with swelling in a small space inside the ear canal can be frustratingly painful and itchy.
Sometimes the skin inside your ears gets infected, in the same way as the skin of the outer ear does. The most common infection is called otitis externa, also known as ‘swimmers’ ear’, and it happens when bacteria affect the sensitive skin of the ear canal. It can happen if the ear canal is left moist after being in the water (hence the name), or if the environment has been humid for a long time, but it can also get infected if it's damaged by cotton buds, fingernails or other objects. Very mild cases of otitis externa can be managed by keeping your ears clean and dry, and using oil as described below, but if it doesn’t improve, do consult a medical professional, as an infection can cause damage.
What you can do about itchy ears?
Try these three steps to soothe itchy or irritated ears:
- Avoid irritants
Check everything you put on or around your ears for ingredients that might be causing irritation. Shampoos are often the cause of irritated skin, so make sure you’re using an extra gentle one.
Although it’s hard to use emollients inside the ear, make sure that you’re keeping as much of your ear as you can reach (without poking inside it) well hydrated with suitable emollients. Skin Salvation is a good choice for a gentle, non-stinging moisturiser as it can be applied relatively thickly and will stay on where it’s needed! Apply around the outer ear as often as required.
- Apply oil
To help with dry or inflamed ears, you can use a very small amount of natural oil. Don’t use a cotton bud to go deep into the ear, although you can apply the oil to the outer ear with one. If you need the oil to reach further inside, drop some warm oil in from above.
Balmonds Scalp Oil can be used for this purpose; it’s 100% natural and made with antimicrobial herbal oils that should help soothe the itch and help protect against infection. Just warm up a small amount in a tablespoon, and use a dropper to drip a couple of drops into the ear.
If the itchiness doesn’t improve, or worsens, or if you develop a fever, see your doctor or pharmacist. They may prescribe antibiotics or topical steroid drops.
Balmonds Skin Salvation
with hemp and beeswax
Balmonds Scalp Oil
with tea tree, nettle, borage & rosemary
If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.