Why Are My Ears Crusty?

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When the ears get really dry, they can become itchy, irritated, and crusty. Crusty ears can be caused by skin conditions such as eczema, which causes itchy inflammation of the skin, or seborrheic dermatitis, which causes scaly patches and red skin on the scalp. However, they could also be a result of environmental factors such as allergies or temperature fluctuations.

Treatment for dry, crusty ears depends on the cause. Crusty ears are not typically a sign of a serious condition. Treatment for crusty ears typically includes lifestyle changes, over-the-counter (OTC) ointments or lotions, and prescription medications.

Itching ears

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Dry Ear Canal: Common Causes 

The ear canal is the passage that runs from the outer ear to the eardrum. It is typically moist with wax, which helps prevent infections or bacteria from getting into the ears. If a person overcleans their ears or doesn’t produce enough ear wax, their canal can become dry. Fluctuations in temperature can also cause the ear canal to become dry.

Allergies and certain products like soaps and body washes can also lead to crusty ears if they contain harsh chemicals that can strip the natural oil from the skin.

Other causes of dry and crusty ears can include dehydration, stress, smoking, swimming in a heavily chlorinated pool, or excessive sun exposure.

When someone becomes overexposed to the sun, they can develop a condition known as actinic keratosis. This condition often leads to rough and scaly patches of skin on the head and face, including the ears.

Possible Medical Conditions

Diseases of the skin such as eczema, psoriasis (where skin cells build up and form scales and dry, itchy patches), and seborrheic dermatitis can develop on any part of the body, including the ears. When they affect the ears, they can cause dryness, itchiness, and crustiness.

In some cases, the itchiness and dryness caused by medical conditions of the ear can lead to scabs if you scratch them too much. It’s therefore important to seek treatment as quickly as possible when you have itchy and crusty ears to avoid damaging the ears by over-scratching.

Eczema

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a highly common condition in children, but can also affect people of all ages. The condition is chronic and tends to flare up from time to time, especially when you come into contact with skin irritants.

When someone has eczema behind the ears or in the ear canal, it can cause skin in the area to become excessively dry and crack.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that affects over seven million adults in the United States. A problem with your immune system causes psoriasis.

In a process called cell turnover, skin cells that grow deep in your skin rise to the surface. Normally, this takes a month. In psoriasis, it happens in just days because your cells rise too fast.

Psoriasis can affect the entire body, including the outer ear. The dead skin cells on the ear do not shed as new ones are made, causing the outer ear area to become crusty, scaly, and red.

Seborrheic Dermatitis 

Seborrheic dermatitis typically affects oily areas of the body, which is why it is most commonly found on the scalp. Other areas of the body that seborrheic dermatitis can affect include the face, eyebrows, eyelids, chest, sides of the nose, and ears.

When it affects the ears, it typically affects the area behind the ears. The scales that present with seborrheic dermatitis are white or yellow in color and appear flaky or crusty.

Although the exact cause of the condition isn’t well understood, researchers believe that it could be caused by a combination of oil gland activity, yeast buildup, genetics, and changes in the function of the skin barrier.

What Is the Skin Barrier?

The skin barrier, also called the stratum corneum, is the outermost part of the epidermis, the top layer of your skin.

Myths About Earwax

Many people believe that a buildup of earwax is synonymous with poor hygiene, but that’s not actually the case. Earwax is an important part of ear health.

There are glands in the ear that are designed to secrete substances and fats. These secretions provide an acidic layer of protection for the ear. This acidic environment is designed to kill off bacteria and fungi that could cause infection in the ear canal.

When the secretions mix with shedding skin flakes and other dust particles, they combine to create earwax, which is constantly pushed out by jaw movement. Additionally, the constant migration of skin from the depths of the ear to the outer part also aids in cerumen clearance.

This is how the ears clean themselves. It’s therefore completely normal for some of your skin to flake or crust in the ear in this process.

The body’s ability to create viable earwax decreases as we age, and this can lead to dead skin cell buildup or dry earwax. The earwax may then start acting as a plug and affect your hearing.

How to Remove Earwax Safely

The best way to remove earwax is to use a soft washcloth or tissue. If there are hard plugs of earwax, you can try softening the wax at home using warm olive or almond oil, water, or ear drops and sprays designed for dissolving earwax.

Another way to remove earwax is by having your doctor rinse your ears, which is known as irrigation. Your doctor will use special instruments to help remove any buildup or plugs of earwax. Research has shown that medical removal works better when at-home methods were done first.

You should never stick anything like a cotton bud, unlit candle, or other small objects into your ear to clean it. Putting these things into your ear can irritate and damage your ear canal and eardrum.

Managing Crusty Ears 

The main goal of treatment is to restore moisture and reduce itching after diagnosing the cause of your crusty ears.

Typical treatments for psoriasis and eczema include topical steroid creams or ear drops. They can be found either OTC or as a prescription.

If a fungus is to blame for your crusty ears, antifungal ear drops may be prescribed. Factors that trigger flare-ups, especially in the case of eczema, should be eliminated to help with the recovery.

Home treatment options center around keeping your ears clean and reintroducing moisture to the area. Petroleum jelly can help moisturize your ears and reduce any itching that could lead to further irritation.

If you must clean your ears, it should be done gently with a washcloth or tissue, and to the outer area of the ears only.

Summary

Dry, crusty ears could be a result of temperature changes or allergic reactions to the products you use. It could also be caused by skin conditions like eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, and psoriasis. To find the best treatment for your crusty ears, you have to find out what’s causing it first.

A Word From Verywell

Having crusty ears can be irritating, especially since they are usually also very itchy. The appearance of crusty ears may also make you feel embarrassed. The good news is they are not commonly associated with serious health conditions and can be treated easily.

Something as benign as temperature fluctuations can cause crusty ears. While crusty ears could be a sign of a chronic skin condition, these conditions are easily treatable.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What can I do for crusty ears?

If you’ve ruled out skin conditions, the best thing you can do to manage your crusty ears is to clean them gently and restore moisture to the area. By doing so, you can help to rid the ear of dry skin and reduce ear crustiness.

Are crusty ears a sign of ear eczema? 

Crusty ears can be a sign of ear eczema, but they can also be a sign of other skin conditions such as psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis. In some cases, crusty ears could just be a symptom of certain environmental factors, such as temperature changes.

Does the time of day affect crusty ears?

During the night, the ears create earwax. Sometimes, earwax can become flaky if the ear is too dry. This can lead to crusty ears in the morning.

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