Scab in the Ear: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

A scab in the ear usually isn't something to worry about. You can develop a scab in your ear due to a new ear piercing, an ear pimple, or dry and irritated skin. Acute causes like these can usually heal on their own, although an over-the-counter (OTC) topical treatment may help.

Much more rarely, a scab in your ear can be a sign of a serious, underlying condition like skin cancer. For this reason, it's important to see your healthcare provider if the scab in your ear won't seem to heal or is accompanied by other new or unusual symptoms.

This article covers the potential causes and symptoms of a scab in the ear. It also discusses treatment options for each cause, along with when to see a healthcare provider.

person holding ear

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Ear Piercing

Ear piercing can cause scabs on the ear due to infection.

If the piercing is on the lobe and the ear gets infected, there can be scabbing. A keloid or abscess can also occur. If the piercing is on the cartilage, this takes a longer time to heal because this area doesn’t have blood vessels or nerve cells. If this area gets infected, call a healthcare professional.

Treatment

The type of treatment depends on the severity of the infection. The following are some treatment options:

  • Taking oral antibiotics
  • Applying antibiotic ointment on the affected area
  • Rinsing the infected area with sterile saline
  • Applying a warm compress to the infected area

Ear Pimples

Ear pimples can appear on the inside of the ear. They can form just like any pimple found on the face or neck. Although the pimple is harmless, it is important not to pick at or pop it. The discharge can flow into the ear or it can become infected and irritated.

Treatment

The pimple should heal on its own. Putting a warm compress on the area can help. Other items that are known to help include:

  • Retinol
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • OTC acne treatments (they're also known to help pimples in the ear)

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a condition that causes inflammation in the body. When an individual has psoriasis, their immune system is overactive. The condition also causes excessive inflammation and is known to affect other organs and tissues.

Due to the overactive immune system, the cell growth of the skin speeds up. Typically, the skin grows and falls off within a month. For people who have psoriasis, there is growth within three to four days and the skin doesn't have a chance to shed properly. As a result, the skin cells form at a rapid rate and pile up on the surface of the skin. This leaves dry and scaly patches that are known to burn, scab, sting, and itch.

These patches can form anywhere on the body, including the knees, elbows, ears, eyelids, and scalp. This condition is not contagious.

Treatment

There are several treatment options for psoriasis. Keep in mind that lifestyle habits may help the condition.

Some of the triggers include:

  • Stress
  • Diet
  • Cold climates

Finding ways to reduce stress, consuming low-inflammatory foods, and getting sun or using a humidifier are helpful. It is always important to contact a healthcare professional to address any questions.

Some common treatments for psoriasis include:

  • Vitamin D3 ointment
  • Vitamin A or retinol creams
  • Steroid creams
  • Moisturizers for dry skin
  • Anthralin, a medication to slow skin cell production
  • Medicated lotions, shampoos, and bath solutions to improve scalp psoriasis
  • Light therapy

There are other treatments for extreme cases that can cause side effects. Speak with a healthcare provider regarding options if there is an extreme case of psoriasis.

Cholesteatoma

Cholesteatoma is a type of skin cyst. It is located in the middle ear and mastoid bone in the skull. Some people are born with the condition, or it occurs due to chronic ear infections.

When an individual has primary acquired cholesteatoma, the eustachian tube located in the middle ear is not equalizing the pressure regularly. As a result, there is a buildup of negative pressure, and this will pull the eardrum inward. This creates a cyst that fills with waste material and old skin cells. If the cyst grows or becomes infected, this can affect the structure of the ear. It can also affect balance, hearing, and facial muscles.

Some of the symptoms include:

  • Hearing loss in one ear
  • Drainage from the ears
  • Dizziness
  • The sensation of ear fullness or pressure

Treatment

To determine the diagnosis of cholesteatoma, an ear exam or CT scan may be conducted. The most successful treatment option is surgery. The cysts are known to grow if they are not removed.

Ear Dermatitis

Dermatitis means inflammation of the skin. This is a word that is used to describe rashes and skin irritation caused by issues such as:

  • An overactive immune system
  • Genetics
  • Infections
  • Allergies

The common symptoms can range from mild to severe, and they include a rash, dry skin, and itchiness. There are different types of dermatitis, including seborrheic dermatitis. That is the type usually found on the scalp, ears, and face. It shows up as dry, flaky, itchy skin on the area of the body that is affected.

Other symptoms include:

  • Rashes
  • Bumps
  • Scaling skin
  • Blood and liquid oozing from the area when scratched

Treatment

To diagnose dermatitis, the healthcare provider will typically examine the skin, perform a skin biopsy, and do a blood test and an allergy skin test. The specific treatment depends on the severity of the condition.

Some of the most common treatments include the following:

  • Moisturizing creams
  • Corticosteroid creams and ointments
  • Oral medication
  • Antibiotics
  • Phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors

Some at-home treatments include using moisturizers to keep the skin hydrated, reducing stress, using mild soap, and bathing in lukewarm water.

Eczema

When an individual has ear eczema, they will notice dry scaly skin on the ear or inside the ear canal.

Other symptoms include:

  • Itchiness around or in the ear
  • Discharge
  • Redness
  • Swelling

This condition can be painful and cause infection.

Eczema can affect all areas of the ear including the eardrum. People with eczema have an overactive immune system. Some triggers such as stress, scented lotions, fabrics, or infections will create inflammation in the skin.

Treatment

The treatment of ear eczema depends on the type of eczema a person has.

Typically, a medical ointment will be prescribed to apply to the area. Another option is a topical steroid. If eczema is inside the ear canal, steroid drops may be prescribed.

It is also important to consider lifestyle habits such as:

  • Wearing fabrics such as bamboo, cotton, or silk
  • Minimizing exposure to dust and pet hair
  • Avoiding processed and high-inflammatory foods

In the cooler months, be sure to get adequate fresh air and use a humidifier. Other triggers for eczema include:

  • Metal from jewelry
  • Scented soaps and lotions
  • Stress

Dry Ears

Dry skin on the ears typically looks scaly, with rough-feeling patches. If the dryness is severe, the skin may bleed or crack. Dryness in the skin can be caused by climate, illness, allergies, genetics, age, or other skin conditions. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Itchiness
  • Cracked skin
  • Rough patches
  • Redness
  • Flakes or scales

Treatment

To diagnose dry skin, the healthcare provider may conduct a blood test, allergy test, or skin biopsy.

Treatments include moisturizers for softening and lubrication. These products can include ointments, oils, and lotions.

Another option is medication. If the dry skin in the ear is cracking or itching, a topical steroid may be prescribed.

Heat Rash

Heat rash, also called prickly heat or miliaria, is a skin irritation that causes tingling pain and, at times, small bumps. Too much scratching can cause irritation and scabs.

Although anyone can get a heat rash, it is most common in infants and children. Heat rash occurs when there is excessive sweating and it blocks the sweat glands and gets trapped under the skin. The rash happens when the pores can't clear out the sweat.

Treatment

Heat rash can be treated by cooling down and drying off. If there is irritation and bumps or scabs occur, ointment can also be used or prescribed. If the rash doesn’t clear up within three to four days, call a healthcare professional.

Ear Cancer

Although it is far more rare than the other causes noted, it's important to know that a scab in the ear can occasionally be a sign of skin cancer, particularly basal and squamous cell carcinoma.

Most people's ears see a lot of sunlight, but unfortunately, not everyone applies sunscreen to their ears as often as they should. Sun exposure isn't the only risk factor, though. Fair skin, increasing age, smoking, radiation exposure, and other factors can all increase your risk.

If you have a scab in your ear that does not get better within four weeks, you should have it checked by a dermatologist or healthcare provider. Other symptoms of ear cancer include:

  • Scaly skin on the ear that does not improve with moisturizer
  • A slow-growing, pearly-white bump
  • A painful or bleeding ulcer
  • Hearing loss, dizziness, or facial paralysis

Treatment

If a skin biopsy of the bump or scaly area on your ear proves to be cancerous, the lesion will need to be removed with surgery. Treatment will begin immediately to prevent the cancer from spreading.

The type of cancer treatment you receive will depend on the type and stage of cancer as well as its location. Treatment typically involves radiation therapy and may involve chemotherapy as well.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

There are a number of treatments for different conditions that cause ear scabs. If you start with OTC medicine and don’t see improvement, call your healthcare provider.

Other signs that you would need medical attention include:

  • Excessive itching
  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Cracks from the dry patches
  • Discharge

Don’t hesitate to call your healthcare provider to get the proper care that is needed to treat the condition.

How to Care for Ear Scabs

Depending on the reason the ear scabs occur, treatment can vary. In general, it is important to follow the specific directions of any item you have to help the ear scabs. If it is a prescription, follow the care instructions given on the medicine or by your healthcare provider.

As a general rule of thumb, clean the area regularly with soap and lukewarm water and pat it dry. Try to avoid excessive rubbing or scratching. If there are scabs in the ear canal, avoid poking anything in the area, and wash it with lukewarm water. Keep hands clean at all times when applying medication or ointment.

Balms to Use

There are a lot of OTC options for treating scabs. Products that have water as a main ingredient are helpful for moisture. Ointments and creams are heavier than lotions and don’t need frequent application.

For more intensive care, products with lactic acid are known to be helpful. Some prescribed medications that have steroids are known to reduce inflammation of the affected area. Your healthcare professional can help make the right decision and answer questions.

Summary

Ear scabs are common and generally not serious. Some acute causes of a scab in the ear, such as an ear pimple or dry skin, should heal on their own. Other conditions, like severe eczema or ear cancer will require medical treatment. If you have an ear scab that does not go away, reach out to your healthcare provider to rule out more serious medical conditions and get the treatment you need.

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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.
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By Yvelette Stines
Yvelette Stines, MS, MEd, is an author, writer, and communications specialist specializing in health and wellness.