What You Need to Know About Eczema in and on Your Ears

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Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is an inflammatory skin condition that causes a scaly, inflamed, itchy rash.

It can affect any part of the body, including the ankles, feet, inner elbows, around the eyes, and in and on the ears.

Ear eczema can present some challenges as well as a few unique symptoms and complications. 

This article discusses the symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of ear eczema.

ear eczema

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Causes

Ear eczema, like other types of atopic dermatitis, is caused by an overreaction by the immune system to irritants or allergens. This overreaction can result in inflammation of the skin. The underlying causes include:

  • Genetics
  • Having a family history of asthma or hay fever
  • Irritants or allergens
  • Environmental triggers
  • Stress
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Seborrheic dermatitis, a type of eczema that affects areas of the body where sebaceous (oil-producing) glands reside, including the scalp, face, trunk, and ears

Symptoms

The symptoms of ear eczema can be very irritating and even painful at times. Symptoms can range from slight dryness of the visible part of the ear (called the pinna) to severe soreness and extensive loss of skin.

Symptoms of ear eczema may involve both the external and internal parts of the ear—including the ear lobes, the conchal bowl (the area outside the ear hole), and the external auditory canal (the opening of the ear canal that leads to the eardrum).

The symptoms of ear eczema may include skin that is:

  • Red
  • Itchy
  • Scaly
  • Cracked and dry
  • Infected (including the internal and external parts of the ear)

There may also be a clear discharge coming from the ear.

Complications

One of the most common complications from ear eczema is inflammation and infection in the ear canal. This is called acute otitis externa. This results over time from irritation and dryness to the skin, as well as from scratching.

Eventually, cracks develop in the skin, which increases the risk of infection. Ear wax, hair, and skin flakes can accumulate in the ear canal as well. Ear infections that go untreated can eventually cause hearing loss. 

Be sure to consult with your healthcare provider anytime you experience the following signs of acute otitis externa, including:

  • Otalgia (an aching pain in the ear)
  • Ear discomfort, from itching to severe pain
  • Discharge from the external auditory canal
  • Redness in the ear
  • A feeling of fullness in the ear with loss of hearing

Impetigo can also occur. This is a highly contagious bacterial skin infection that causes sores and a honey-colored crust or blister-like bumps.

Diagnosis

Usually, a healthcare provider can diagnose ear eczema simply by performing a physical examination and taking a history of current symptoms, as well as other information.

In some instances, a skin test may be ordered to identify the allergens that may be triggering symptoms of eczema.

Treatment

Treatment of ear eczema depends on the underlying cause and the type of eczema.

Treatment may include:

  • Topical (on the skin) steroid cream 
  • A topical steroid combined with an antifungal cream

Having a home skincare routine—including the use of healthy skin products—is a vital part of eczema treatment. You can find a roster of approved skin lotions, cleansers, and other products by linking to the National Eczema Association’s Eczema Products list.

Prevention

Some measures can help prevent eczema flare-ups, including:

  • Identifying specific allergens that trigger your symptoms (with the help of your dermatologist) and avoiding triggers whenever possible
  • Using a cool-mist humidifier at home when the air is dry
  • Implementing lifestyle changes (such as eating a healthy diet and reducing stress)
  • Wearing a hat to cover your ears in cold weather, since cold air can worsen eczema symptoms
  • Practicing good bathing habits such as taking warm baths—not hot—and using unscented bath products
  • Moisturizing your skin after you bathe or shower with a product approved by the National Eczema Association

Summary

Ear eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that causes a scaly, inflamed, itchy rash on or in the ear. It often can be diagnosed by a physical exam and treated with topical creams.

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Article Sources
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  2. National Eczema Society. Ear eczema factsheet. Updated July 2018.

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  5. Dermatologist Network. 5 tips for preventing an eczema flare-up,