Next to pain, itching is probably the most uncomfortable physical sensation we experience. It is annoying, distracting, and in some cases, absolutely maddening. When that itching occurs in a place we can’t reach, it can be difficult to find relief, and our ear canals are the most common place unreachable itching occurs. Fortunately, most causes of deep ear itching are understood, and there are things we can do to alleviate or even prevent it.
One of the most common culprits of inner ear itching is allergies. The same histamine response that causes itchy hives on the skin, watery eyes, and sneezing can also cause the eustachian tube to become inflamed. Most of us will press on our tragus (that small flap of cartilaginous skin near the ear’s opening) and wiggle it vigorously to relieve the sensation, but the best home remedy is to take an antihistamine.
For the outer ear, itching is rarely a notable issue, since we can easily rub or scratch that itch away. It is usually caused by dry skin or irritants that come into contact with the skin. It is no different from itching on any other exposed part of the body, but if it becomes a nuisance, applying a bit of mineral oil or Vaseline to the affected area with a cotton swab can help rehydrate the skin and protect it from further irritation.
In addition to the superficial irritation from substances you come in contact with, two of the most common benign skin diseases, eczema and psoriasis, can also affect your ears. If scaling of the skin is present, one of these conditions will be suspected as the cause of your itching. Your hearing care provider and dermatologist can provide solutions.
Almost everyone has suffered an ear infection at some point in their lives, and when we think back on this experience, it is usually the pain that we remember the most, but itching can also be an important indicator of bacterial buildup in the middle ear. If the itching you feel is persistent and intense or accompanied by a throbbing sensation, schedule an appointment with your audiologist or ENT. Treating an infection at this stage can save you from further discomfort down the road.
You may be surprised to learn this, but simply being nervous, stressed, or feeling on edge can cause itching in any area of the body, including the ears!
What Can I Do to Relieve Itching?
As mentioned above, medication is usually the best method to relieve persistent itching deep in the ear, but there are also some over-the-counter remedies you can try. Commercial eardrops that dissolve wax can clear the ear of buildup and debris and relieve itching. Taking a hot shower or sipping a hot cup of tea may also help, as the heat dilates blood vessels and improves circulation to the ears. An added benefit of this approach is that it is likely to relax you, which will reduce nervous itching.
Can I Prevent Itchy Ears?
The best way to prevent itching in any part of the ear is to practice good ear hygiene and avoid allergy triggers. While we are all tempted to clean our ears at home, this often does more harm than good. No foreign object should ever be inserted into the ear. This pushes wax deeper into the canal, which can cause everything from painful blockages to that persistent itching we’re trying to avoid. Wax is actually a very important component of ear health; it keeps the inner ear waterproof and resistant to microbes. Gently washing the outer ear with a soft washcloth and warm water will rinse away any excess wax or debris and help keep dermatitis at bay. Click here for more information.
If you wear earrings, make sure they are made of a hypoallergenic metal such as pure gold, sterling silver, or titanium, as some other metals (chiefly nickel) can react with the skin and cause itching. This is especially important for cartilage piercings.
Avoid getting excess water in your ears whenever possible. Swim with your head above the surface and consider wearing a shower cap while bathing. Switching to a shampoo formulated for sensitive skin can also cut down on ear irritation.
Steer clear of allergens whenever possible, and follow your allergy treatment plan.
And finally, when inserting hearing aids, earbuds, or any other device that fits into the ear, do so gently and carefully, and ensure the device is clean. It may seem like a small gesture, but anytime we place something in or near the ear canal, we’re potentially disrupting the ear’s natural biome.
If you’re dealing with itchy ears this spring, don’t hesitate to call our caring team for a consultation. We’re here to help!