Symptoms

Itching in the ear – causes, treatment

Itching in the ear

Constant or frequent itching in the ear is not only annoying, but usually has serious causes. They require a clear diagnosis in order to be treated efficiently afterwards.

What is itching in the ear?

The first intuitive reaction to annoying itching in the ear is usually to try to relieve the itching with the little finger or by means of a cotton swab. And that’s exactly what shouldn’t happen!

The external auditory canal is lined by a very delicate skin and can easily be injured by fingernails or cotton swabs. This in turn promotes new infections. The use of a cotton swab is also discouraged because it can happen more often that the ear canal is blocked.

The earwax (cerumen) pushes together and forms a plug shortly before the eardrum, which (temporarily) significantly reduces hearing. It goes without saying that pencils or paper clips are prohibited as a “treatment tool” because of the considerable risk of injury.

Causes

Constant or frequent itching in the ear can have various causes. Often inflammation in the ear canal is detected, which may have been caused by small injuries in the ear canal. Small injuries form the entrance gates for bacteria or fungi, which cannot always be kept sufficiently “in check” by the immune system.

In these cases, parallel to itching, a feeling of pressure in the ear and earache usually occur. In the further course, pus formation may occur, which drains from the ear to the outside with an unpleasant odor.

Other causes of the annoying itching in the ear can lie in underlying diseases such as neurodermatitis or psoriasis, if the external auditory canal or the auricle is affected. Allergic reactions to the use of incompatible shampoos, hairsprays or cosmetics can also trigger lasting itching.

Similar allergic reactions can even be caused by earrings if they contain nickel in case of nickel allergy. Occasional itching in the ear usually has harmless causes such as dried earwax or simply a particularly stressful situation.

Diseases with this symptom

Diagnosis & course

A reliable diagnosis requires a detailed anamnesis (initial examination) to clarify possible causes of the annoying itching in the ear.

By means of an ear microscope (technical term: otoscope) it can be clarified quite reliably whether inflammatory processes caused by bacterial or fungal infestation play a role in the external auditory canal. If an inflammation of the external auditory canal and possibly also the eardrum is diagnosed, this usually manifests itself not only by the annoying itching but also by diffuse pain when chewing or when pulling on the auricle. It is also important to answer the question of whether diabetes is present in the person concerned. Diabetes can lead to a much more severe course of inflammation in the external auditory canal.

Likewise, neurodermatitis or psoriasis can usually be detected, especially if a tendency to these two diseases was recognizable in the course of the anamnesis or corresponding symptoms have already occurred in other parts of the body.

In suspected cases of allergic reactions, it should be carefully clarified whether rigorous discontinuation of the shampoos and cosmetics used can help. If skin reactions have also been observed in other places on the face, neck or scalp, the suspicion of allergic reactions is confirmed. In case of doubt, allergy tests must be carried out by the specialist (otolaryngologist) for groups of substances contained in the shampoos and cosmetics used.

Complications

Itching in the ear can arise due to various underlying diseases. If left untreated, the diseases can lead to various complications. Due to the constant itching, scratching can cause wounds that can become infected. The ear swells and hurts. One of the most common causes of itching in the ear is inflammation of the external auditory canal (otitis externa), which is often triggered by pathogens or an allergic reaction.

If the inflammation is not treated, it can spread to the surrounding soft tissues and infect other structures. This often also affects the eardrum, which can tear. Severe pain and impaired hearing are the result. In the worst cases, in addition to the soft tissues, the bone with the base of the skull can also be affected, which can be destroyed due to the infection.

Nerve dysfunction can also occur, especially those responsible for the facial muscles and the senses of hearing and balance. These cases are mainly found in Diabetics and the elderly. Another possibility for an itchy ear is when there is little or no earwax (cerumen). Normally, this has the task of moistening the ear and protecting it from infections. If there is less, the ear is more vulnerable to infection and inflammation.

When should you go to the doctor?

An itchy ear usually indicates a middle ear infection that definitely requires medical attention. At the first signs of such an inflammation, however, it is not absolutely necessary to see a doctor. For the time being, the affected person can of course also use home remedies or the medicine chest to get the inflammation under control. Anti-inflammatory agents such as chamomile are very effective at this point.

However, if there is no significant improvement after one or two days, a doctor should be consulted immediately. In the case of a simple middle ear infection, going to the Family Doctor is sufficient. Of course, an ENT doctor can also be consulted as an alternative, but the treatment or the medication to be prescribed will probably not differ from each other. The affected person is usually given an antibiotic to reduce the inflammation. In addition, painkillers can also be prescribed, but these can also be purchased from the doctor without a prescription.

In general, if you have a middle ear infection, you can take home remedies and medication on your own at the beginning. However, if there is no improvement after a short time, a visit to the doctor should not be put off. Otherwise, the inflammation can worsen considerably, so that pus can even form under certain circumstances.

Treatment & Therapy

If an inflammation is diagnosed, the external auditory canal is thoroughly cleaned and possibly supplied with a cortisone-containing agent. In addition, specific antibiotics are administered in the case of a bacterial infection and corresponding antimycotics in the case of a fungal infection . Alternatively, instead of the cortisone-containing agent, chamomile tea (cold) can also be carefully introduced into the ear canal as an antibacterial agent.

If there is an allergy to certain classes of substances in shampoos or cosmetics, it is strongly recommended to stop using the funds immediately. Alternatively, alternative shampoos, soaps and cosmetics that do not contain specific allergens can be used. In the case of a pronounced allergy, desensitization can be helpful.

Outlook & Forecast

In most cases, itching in the ear is associated with an imminent inflammation. However, a doctor’s visit is only necessary if the itching becomes a constant and severe pain. Medical advice should also be sought in the event of a purulent discharge, as this clinical picture should be treated urgently with appropriate medication.

If the itching occurs immediately after eating certain foods, this can be a sign of an allergic reaction. Going to the doctor is very advisable at this point, because allergy therapy can help quickly and easily.

Another cause of severe itching in the ear canal is foreign objects in the ear. Insects or other small animals can get into the inner ear and cause the itching with their movements. Bacterial infectionsand inflammation can be caused very quickly by foreign objects and animals. In this case, it is necessary to urgently consult an otolaryngologist. With the appropriate tools, the ENT doctor can remove the animal or foreign body.

In general, if the itching persists for a long time, you should definitely see a doctor. The cause of this must be found and treated accordingly.

Prevention

The best measures to prevent itching in the ear are omissions. The external auditory canal has small cilia which, for example, slowly transport the earwax produced outwards. Therefore, cleaning the ear canal with cotton swabs or other means is unnecessary. Cleaning the ear canal with shampoos or soap is also counterproductive, because an acidic environment sets in in the healthy ear canal, which would be severely disturbed by such measures.

If earplugs or earphones are worn frequently or permanently, it is advisable to clean them frequently with an alcohol-based or antibacterial solution to prevent bacterial infections.

You can do that yourself

If the ear itches, there is no need to see a doctor straight away. Various home remediesand methods relieve the itching and combat the causes. First, the ears should be thoroughly rinsed with water to flush out any foreign objects. The ear canals themselves should be rinsed out professionally or cleaned superficially with warm water. Cotton swabs should be avoided due to the risk of injury.

If the itching is caused by an inflammation of the auditory canal, cotton swabs soaked in high-percentage [alcohol]] can be placed in the auricle. After repeated use, the itching should decrease and any swelling in the ear canal should decrease. If there is a fungal infestation, antifungal solutions or cortisone-containing ointments are recommended. A natural alternative is Chamomile Tea . Ear oil or Ear Candles can also be used to reduce itching in the ear.

With an allergy, the most effective remedy is prevention. The itching can be avoided by sealing the ears with cotton wool or earplugs before showering (in case of allergy to shampoo) or swimming (in case of chlorine allergy). If the itching can no longer be overcome with conventional home remedies and measures, it is advisable to go to the ear, nose and throat doctor.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.