Why Do My Ears Itch? Causes and Treatments
Annoying, uncomfortable, and at least a little bit worrisome: That’s how many of us feel about itchy ears. Here, HearingTracker shares the information you need to know about why you’re experiencing this symptom—and how to make it stop.
Itchy ears can have many causes, from dry skin to a fungal infection, or even a reaction to a soap or shampoo.
What causes itchy ears
“Itchy ears can have many causes, from dry skin to a fungal infection, or even a reaction to a soap or shampoo,” Danica Billingsly, AuD, Assistant Professor of Audiology at Northern Illinois University said in an interview about this symptom and its treatment.
Here are some of the most common culprits behind uncomfortably itchy ears.
- Wax buildup or impacted earwax - Earwax, or cerumen, is what our body naturally produces to clean away dead skin cells and other debris from the ear canal. But when our bodies produce an excessive amount of wax, it can cause our ears to itch. Just remember: Don’t try to remove the wax yourself with a cotton swab. Never insert any tool into the ear canal! If you accomplish anything at all, it might be making the problem worse by pushing the majority of wax deeper.
- Not enough wax - Just as too much earwax can make our ears itch, not enough wax can have the same effect. Wax is a lubricating substance, and without enough of it, our ears can become overly dry and irritated, resulting in a persistent itch. Earwax also has antibacterial and antifungal properties that protect the ear against infections. When earwax becomes scarce, our ears become more vulnerable to a variety of external threats.
- Infections - If you have an ear infection, you might experience itching, pain in your ear, odor and/or discharge. Infections can be caused by viruses or bacteria; they are often brought on by a cold or flu. A condition called swimmer’s ear may also be to blame. According to the Mayo Clinic, this infection of the outer ear canal often occurs when water remains in your ear, creating a moist environment that aids the growth of bacteria.
- Skin conditions - Eczema, psoriasis and other common skin conditions can cause skin to itch, and ear canals – which are lined with skin – are no exception.
- “Too clean” ears - If you are always reaching for the cotton swabs or using your fingernails to scratch when your ears feel itchy, you could be your own worst enemy. Earwax plays a role in protecting your auditory equipment. Excessive cleaning can irritate your ear canal and may damage the delicate ear tissues, creating a welcoming environment for bacteria and infection.
- Allergies - Many people experience itchy ears during allergy season, when pollen and other triggers are plentiful. Food allergies, or oral allergy syndrome, can also result in an itching sensation in the ears.
- Hearing aids - Hearing aid wearers are more prone to fungal infections of the ear, and there are some materials used in hearing aids, like acrylics, that may cause an allergic reaction. Additionally, some people are allergic to Chlorohexadin, a cleaning agent which may be used to clean and sanitize the part of the hearing aid that goes into your ear.
Treatments for itchy ears
“If your ears are itchy, discuss that symptom with your care providers. If they were to become incessantly itchy, produce discharge, or cause pain, do seek medical care,” Billingsly told HearingTracker.
How you get relief from this aggravating symptom will vary with the cause of the problem. If the itching seems related to too much or two little earwax, your healthcare professional can advise you on a proper cleaning regimen, as well as remove excess earwax if that’s the culprit.
If you experience symptoms consistent with an ear infection, it is important to seek medical care as soon as possible. Untreated ear infections can cause damage to the ear, including hearing loss. Most ear infections can be treated easily and painlessly with antibiotic ear drops. If you wear hearing aids, you are statistically more prone to fungal infections, so when itchiness occurs, reach out for advice. You may also limit your risk by cleaning your hearing aids daily or as recommended by the manufacturer or your audiologist.
Is a skin condition causing your itchy ears? In that case, a consultation with your doctor or dermatologist should resolve the problem. Removing the substance triggering the reaction, applying moisturizing drops, or using prescription medications are among the treatments.
While itching is typically considered a minor problem, given how delicate the ear is and how important hearing is, always consult your healthcare provider if this symptom settles into your daily life. It’s not one to be ignored.