5 Common Causes of Itchy Ears

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 healthcare provider. Here are some of the most common causes of ear itching.

Girl being assessed for ear problems
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Swimmer's Ear

Swimmer's ear, also called otitis externa, 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. Swimmer's ear 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 hairdryer after bathing or swimming.

Otitis externa is thought to affect 10% of people at some stage in their life. While milder forms are often short-lived, a substantial number of cases can persist for weeks or even months despite intensive treatment.

Topical aluminum acetate, topical antibacterial agents, and topical corticosteroids are considered viable and effective treatment options for otitis externa.

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).

The choice of topical therapy depends on the status of the eardrum. This may include the flushing of the ear canal with alcohol and vinegar solution in a 9-to-1 ratio three times daily for 10 days. Fungal infections may benefit from a 10-day course of a topical antifungal, such as clotrimazole, applied thrice daily.

Allergic skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis may be treated with a short course of topical 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 earmold.

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 healthcare provider may be able to diagnose this problem using an otoscope.

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 healthcare provider can remove ear wax from your ear. This is usually done in their office by irrigation with a syringe or the wax is manually removed using special instruments.

The self-removal of ear wax is not recommended. Among cotton swab users, between 2% and 5% are likely to sustain an injury, including bruising and bleeding in the external auditory canal.

Eustachian Tubes

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.

Less commonly, itching may be an early sign of acute otitis media (middle ear inflammation) with effusion (a buildup of fluid). The itching may also be accompanied by a feeling of fullness in the ear followed by the rapid development of pain and/or vertigo. Cases like this typically require oral antibiotics.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do cotton swabs cause itching in the inner ear?

    No, the itching is in the ear canal. There is no sensation in the inner ear—only the middle ear and the ear canal.

  • Why is the inside of my ear itching and ringing?

    The inside of your ear could be itching and ringing due to impacted earwax. This is caused by too much earwax accumulating in the ear canal before the body can dispose of it. In addition to itching and ringing, impacted earwax can also cause dizziness, cough, earache, hearing loss, and a feeling of fullness in the ear.

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.
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  2. Hamid D. Symptom: Itchy ear. Hearing J. 2014;67(9):8-11. doi:10.1097/01.HJ.0000454618.01704.7b

  3. Fullington D, Song J, Gilles A, et al. Evaluation of the safety and efficacy of a novel product for the removal of impacted human cerumenBMC Ear Nose Throat Disord. 2017;17:5. doi:10.1186/s12901-017-0038-8

  4. Khan NB, Thaver S, Govender SM. Self-ear cleaning practices and the associated risk of ear injuries and ear-related symptoms in a group of university students. J Public Health Afr. 2017;8(2):555. doi:10.4081/jphia.2017.555

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  6. Cedars-Sinai. Impacted Earwax.

By Kristin Hayes, RN
Kristin Hayes, RN, is a registered nurse specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders for both adults and children.