The Different Causes of Itchy Ears

Girl being assessed for ear problems.

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A sensation of itchiness in the ears can be caused by several conditions, some are easily remedied while others may require the care of a doctor. Here are some of the most common causes of ear itching.

Swimmer's Ear

Swimmer's ear is also called otitis externa and is an infection of the outer ear. Swimmer's ear occurs when bacteria or other germs are able to grow inside trapped water inside of the ear. This condition is especially common in children but occurs in adults as well. In addition to itchy ears, symptoms include:

  • Ear redness
  • Flaky skin
  • Ear drainage (which may be pus)
  • Pain when moving the head or touching the ear
  • Fever

Swimmer's ear is usually treated with antibiotic ear drops. The best way to prevent swimmer's ear is by keeping the ears dry. You can do this by using earplugs when you bathe or swim, or gently drying the ears with a hair dryer after bathing or swimming.

Skin Problems

Skin problems can affect your ear canal and cause symptoms such as dryness, eczema, psoriasis, or seborrheic dermatitis. The dry skin inside of the ears can be treated by putting a drop or two of baby oil or olive oil in the ear each day (do not do this if you have had ear surgery that has affected the integrity of your eardrum). Allergic skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis are usually treated with steroids.

Hearing Aids

People who wear hearing aids may experience itching in the ears if they are allergic to the plastic their hearing aids are made of. In this case, the hearing aid should be replaced with a different type of mold. It is also possible to have an allergic reaction to polish on the surface of the hearing aid mold. In this case, you can try removing the polish by cleaning your hearing aid by wiping it with alcohol before putting it in your ear.

Depending on the shape of an individual's ear and the type of hearing aid, itching can also occur when the hearing aid puts pressure on the delicate tissue of the ear. Your doctor may be able to diagnose this problem using an otoscope.

Too Much Ear Wax

Excessive ear wax can cause the ears to feel itchy. Most of the time the ears are "self-cleaning," but some individuals tend to either produce an excessive amount of ear wax or are unable to clear ear wax from their ears on their own. Other symptoms of too much earwax include:

If you have not had surgery which affects the integrity of your eardrum (such as myringotomy or the placement of ventilation tubes) you can try one of these home remedies to help get rid of excessive ear wax:

  • Place a few drops of oil (mineral or baby oil works well) in each ear to soften the wax so that you can clear the wax on your own
  • Place a few drops of hydrogen peroxide in each ear
  • Use commercial ear drops to dissolve the wax

If you are not sure that your eardrum is intact or if one of the above home remedies is ineffective, your doctor can remove ear wax from your ear. This is usually done in the doctor's office by irrigation with a syringe or the wax is manually removed using special instruments.

Ear Itching When You Swallow

It should also be noted that some people may experience an itchy feeling deep in the ear when they swallow. The auditory tube (also called the Eustachian tube) opens every time you swallow. The itching usually only occurs when you have another condition that causes a sore throat, such as a cold virus. This is not particularly worrisome and usually resolves when the condition causing the sore throat goes away.

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