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

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Eczema can affect any part of the body, including in and around 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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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


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.


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.


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 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.


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


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.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes a dry ear canal?

    Possible causes of a dry ear canal include eczema, psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, excessive sun exposure, fluctuating temperature, lack of earwax, excessive cleaning of the ear canal, certain types of soap and body wash, dehydration, smoking, stress, and swimming in a pool with lots of chlorine.

  • How do you treat impetigo in the ear?

    You should be able to treat impetigo in the ear by using an oral or topical antibiotic. The sores caused by impetigo should be kept covered during this time. Children between the ages of two and five are most commonly affected by impetigo, but antibiotics can sometimes be dangerous for children. A healthcare provider can help you choose the best option for treatment.

  • Can you treat ear eczema with over-the-counter medicine?

    Yes, you can treat ear eczema with over-the-counter medicine. Many drug stores and pharmacies carry topical and oral solutions that should help relieve itchiness, redness, and rashes caused by eczema. These solutions include antihistamines, pain relievers, and topical hydrocortisone.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Eczema Society. Ear eczema factsheet.

  2. Palmer D. Vitamin d and the development of atopic eczema. JCM. 2015;4(5):1036-1050. doi:10.3390/jcm4051036

  3. MedlinePlus. Swimmer's ear.

  4. Dermatologist Network. 5 Tips for Preventing an Eczema Flare-Up.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Impetigo: All You Need to Know.

  6. National Eczema Association (NEA). Over the Counter.

By Sherry Christiansen
Sherry Christiansen is a medical writer with a healthcare background. She has worked in the hospital setting and collaborated on Alzheimer's research.