Why Are My Ears Burning?

Some people have, at one time or another, felt the sensation that their ears are burning. Sometimes, hot, burning ears may also turn red. In addition to the ears feeling hot themselves, they usually also feel hot to the touch.

There are many causes of hot and burning ears, including strong emotions, temperature changes, hormones, skin conditions, and infections.

Here's what you need to know if your ears are burning, including when you should go to the doctor for your symptoms.

Man holding painful ear with hand

Getty Images / IAN HOOTON/SPL

Sunburn

Sunburn is one of the most common reasons that your ears might feel hot or burn. Many people do not realize that the vulnerable, sensitive area of skin needs protection from the sun. It can also be easy to forget to apply sunscreen to your ears—especially if they are partly covered by your hair.

If you get a sunburn on your ears, it will feel similar to how it would feel if you got a burn on another part of your body. In addition to pain and burning, a sunburn on your ears can cause:

  • Redness and swelling
  • Blistering 
  • Itchy, peeling skin days after a burn

Having a mild sunburn can be uncomfortable but is not dangerous. However, if you have a severe sunburn you can become dangerously dehydrated.

If you get a bad sunburn and you develop a fever, become extremely weak, faint, or have low blood pressure, go to the emergency room.

Treatment

Most sunburns heal on their own within a few days to a week. Treating a mild sunburn can include taking an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever and using an aloe vera salve for your symptoms.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends several strategies for soothing the skin after a sunburn. If you get a sunburn on your ears or anywhere else, you can try:

  • Taking cool baths or showers
  • Moisturizing the skin with gentle formulas that contain aloe vera or soy
  • Taking over-the-counter (OTC) medications like ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling 
  • Staying hydrated 

If blisters form on your skin that have been sunburnt, do not pop them. The blisters are part of the healing process and help protect your skin from infection.

The most important thing that you can do if you get a sunburn is to protect and cover your skin to prevent further sun damage.

Allergic Reaction

Another reason that your ears might be burning is because of an allergic reaction or contact dermatitis. These conditions can happen if you are exposed to allergens such as:

  • Plants
  • Insect bites
  • Personal care products (shampoo, conditioner)
  • Topical creams 
  • Jewelry

Nickel-plated jewelry is a common allergen for people who have pierced ears. A skin allergy may cause hives, redness, itching, and burning. Some people experience swelling, and the ear can also feel hot to the touch.

Treatment

The main treatment for contact dermatitis is stopping and preventing exposure to the allergen. For example, if you have a reaction to a piece of jewelry, you would need to stop wearing it.

Mild allergic reactions will typically resolve once you remove the allergen. In some cases, you might need to see your doctor. They may prescribe you a medicated cream to help your skin heal.

Cutaneous Flushing

Cutaneous flushing is a normal reaction to strong emotions. Red cheeks or blushing is a common physiological response when people feel shame or excitement. 

Flushing can also affect the ears. When a person experiences a strong emotion, their ears may get red and feel hot to the touch. They may also feel a burning sensation.

Other causes of cutaneous flushing include:

  • Drinking alcohol
  • Some prescription medications
  • Physical activity
  • Eating spicy or hot foods
  • Extreme temperature swings 

You're more likely to experience cutaneous flushing if you have certain conditions. Flushing is more common in people who:

Treatment

Flushing is a normal bodily response and it does not need to be treated. You can sometimes prevent or lessen the response by avoiding triggers, such as alcohol or temperature extremes.

Ear Infection

An ear infection can also cause pain and a burning sensation depending on the severity of and type of infection that you have.

Middle ear infections are a common type of ear infection. The symptoms of an ear infection include:

  • Ear pain
  • Malaise
  • A sensation of fullness in the ear
  • Muffled ear sound
  • Nasal congestion
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fluid drainage from the ear 

Treatment

Ear infections may go away without treatment but there are some things that you can do to alleviate your symptoms, such as:

  • Applying a warm compress to the affected ear(s)
  • Using over-the-counter (OTC) ear drops
  • Taking OTC pain medication 

Ear infections that do not get better on their own or get worse need to be treated by a doctor. You might need antibiotics to clear up the infection.

Red Ear Syndrome

Red ear syndrome is a poorly understood condition that produces one-sided ear reddening and burning. It can also affect both ears. The burning and redness can last up to several hours, and attacks happen on and off again.

Triggers for red ear syndrome may include:

  • Physical touch
  • Chewing
  • Hot or cold temperatures
  • Moving the neck
  • Physical exertion 

People can experience red ear syndrome at any age. In addition to ear redness, a person can also have redness in the cheek on the same side. The ear can swell, and, in some cases, the eye on the affected side may water or become irritated.

While it's not clear what causes red ear syndrome, it might be linked to migraines.

Treatment

Since little is understood about red ear syndrome, it's not clear what the best treatment for the condition is. People with red ear syndrome might benefit from:

Erythromelalgia

Erythromelalgia is a rare condition that affects the extremities, typically the feet. Very rarely, it can also affect the ears. The symptoms can affect one or both sides of the body. 

People with erythromelalgia experience:

  • Severe burning pain
  • Redness 
  • Skin that’s hot to the touch 
  • Tingling of the skin 

There’s no definitive known cause for erythromelalgia, but there might be a familial link.

Treatment

Each person with erythromelalgia responds differently to the treatments that are available. What works well for one person with the condition may not work for someone else.

People with erythromelalgia often find cooling is an effective way to soothe their symptoms.

Other treatments include:

  • Topical medications such as a lidocaine patch 
  • Calcium antagonists
  • Magnesium selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants 
  • Gabapentin
  • Antihistamines
  • Clonazepam
  • Misoprostol

Skin Infection

A knick, cut, or bug bite can cause the skin around the outside of the ear to become infected. An infection of the skin around the outer ear is called otitis externa.

Other causes of this type of skin infection include acne, eczema, psoriasis, or an allergic reaction.

An infection of the skin of the ear can cause:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Pain (may feel like a burning sensation)
  • Itching
  • Pus 
  • Fever (if the infection is severe)

Treatment

Sometimes an infection will go away without treatment. However, if you notice that the infection is getting worse or spreading, you should see a doctor.

Treating a severe skin infection of the ear can be hard because the ear does not have many blood vessels. When considering treatment, your doctor will need to determine whether the infection is bacterial or fungal. 

Topical ear drops are usually the first-line treatment for a skin infection that involves the outer ear canal. The drops may contain antibiotics or other ingredients such as acetic acid. Oral antibiotics are the last resort for severe infections.

Seborrheic Eczema

Seborrheic eczema (also called seborrheic dermatitis) affects areas of the skin that tend to produce oil, including the face and scalp. It can also affect the ears. It can look like a rash and may produce a burning sensation.

The symptoms of this type of eczema include:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Scaly patches of skin 
  • Pain and itching

Treatment

The basic treatment for seborrheic eczema involves washing the skin with a zinc cleanser and moisturizing after bathing or showering. 

Medical treatments include topical antifungals or medicated personal hygiene products.

For severe cases of seborrheic dermatitis, a dermatologist may prescribe a topical corticosteroid or calcineurin inhibitor.

Relapsing Polychondritis

Relapsing polychondritis is a rare degenerative disease that primarily affects the cartilage in the body, including the ears.

The ear lobes are not affected by relapsing polychondritis because they do not contain cartilage. 

The main symptoms of relapsing polychondritis are:

  • Sudden pain 
  • Swelling and tenderness of the ears

The condition can also affect the middle ear, and some people experience hearing loss.

The cause of relapsing polychondritis is not known. However, experts believe that the disease is an autoimmune condition.

Treatment

Treatment for relapsing polychondritis usually involves corticosteroids and OTC pain medications. In very severe cases that involve the heart, a doctor may recommend immunosuppressants.

A Word From Verywell

There are many causes of hot, burning ears. Sometimes the burning sensation occurs with redness and swelling of the skin of the ears. Emotions and environmental exposure to sunlight or very hot or cold temperatures can cause the ears to burn.

While burning ears are not usually a cause for concern, they can be uncomfortable. Cooling the skin or taking OTC pain medication can provide relief. Staying away from triggers is the ideal way to avoid discomfort. 

Sometimes having burning ears is a sign of an underlying health problem such as an ear infection or autoimmune condition. If the burning is caused by an infection or autoimmune disease, a doctor can prescribe medication to help treat the symptoms.

If your ears are burning and the pain is not getting better or is getting worse, make an appointment with your doctor. While many skin infections that can affect your ears often heal on their own, some will require antibiotic treatment. 

FAQs

What does it mean if your ears are burning?

Burning ears can mean a lot of things. You may have a sunburn or a condition like erythromelalgia. Other potential causes for burning ears include skin infection, ear infection, flushing, or eczema. 

How do you treat itching and burning ears?

If you’re experiencing itching and burning ears, make an appointment with your doctor. They will determine the cause of your symptoms and prescribe the best treatment.

The treatment for your ear symptoms will depend on what is causing them. For example, if you have an allergic reaction, avoiding exposure to the allergen should be enough to give you relief. However, if you have a condition like seborrheic eczema, you may need topical prescription medication to treat your symptoms effectively.

Why do my ears burn when I am embarrassed? 

If your ears get red when you feel strong emotions, you're experiencing subcutaneous flushing or blushing. The response is a normal reaction to human emotions and is caused by increased blood flow to the area. Some people blush more easily than others. 

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Article Sources
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  3. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI). Skin allergy.

  4. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI). Contact dermatitis.

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  8. American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA). Why you should hear about the red ear syndrome. Updated July 22, 2020.

  9. National Organization for Rare Disorders. Erythromelalgia.

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  12. National Eczema Association. Seborrheic dermatitis.

  13. National Organization for Rare Disorders. Relapsing polychondritis.

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