What are the causes of ear eczema, and how to treat it?

ear eczema
Medically reviewed by Richard Honaker M.D.

Key takeaways

  • Ear eczema, affecting the outer ear canal, manifests with diverse symptoms, including itching, redness, dryness, discharge, pain, swelling, crusting, and, in severe cases, hearing impairment.
  • Individuals with a history of eczema and allergic dermatitis are more susceptible. Diagnosis involves a thorough medical history, physical examination, and otoscopic assessment and may include patch testing or laboratory tests to rule out other conditions.
  • Treatment for ear eczema often incorporates topical corticosteroid creams to reduce inflammation, antifungal medications for potential fungal infections, and antibiotics if bacterial components are present. This multifaceted approach aims to alleviate symptoms and promote overall ear health.

Overview

Ear eczema or ear dermatitis comes in various forms, such as seborrheic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, and atopic dermatitis. Usually, ear eczema is not too severe. But the dry skin and itching can be annoying, particularly if it touches the ear. Eczema in the ear typically goes away with appropriate care and has no lasting consequences. Most ear eczema sufferers can effectively treat their condition with the aid of a physician, over-the-counter medications, and lifestyle modifications. Those who think they might have ear eczema should consult their healthcare provider virtually to determine the best course of action for their specific diagnosis and treatment.

What is ear eczema?

Atopic dermatitis, often known as ear eczema, is an ailment that leaves your skin dry, red, irritated, and rough. It could show up inside your ear canal or on the outside of your ear. It can present as a bumpy rash on the ear lobe, dry skin rash behind the ears, or crusty ears. The skin’s “glue,” or barrier function, is harmed by eczema. 

Your skin becomes more sensitive, making it more prone to dryness and infections. Approximately 15–30% of children and 2–10% of adults will experience atopic dermatitis leading to ear eczema, with 60% of cases emerging within the first year of life.

Signs and Symptoms of ear eczema

The signs and symptoms of ear eczema can vary from person to person; Eczema can be in the ear canal or behind the ear. Typical indicators include:

  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Dryness
  • Discharge
  • Pain or Discomfort
  • Swelling
  • Crusting
  • Hearing impairment
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How do I get rid of eczema in my ears?

The treatment of eczema in the ears typically involves a combination of strategies to relieve symptoms, reduce inflammation, and address potential underlying causes. Here’s an overview of how creams, antifungal medications, and antibiotics may be used along with ear eczema home treatment:

  1. Moisturizers and Emollients: 

Moisturizers and emollients are pivotal in managing ear eczema by addressing dryness and reducing irritation, essential for promoting overall skin health. Aquaphor, a trusted emollient, stands out for its healing touch, creating a protective barrier that locks in moisture to soothe and repair ear eczema.

  1. Home treatments for ear eczema:

Home remedies can be beneficial as well for treating eczema. Natural solutions like coconut or olive oil, known for their anti-inflammatory properties, are effective alternatives. Furthermore, calendula-infused creams offer anti-inflammatory and antiseptic benefits, aiding in the healing process of irritated ear skin. Shea butter’s rich blend of vitamins and fatty acids provides deep nourishment to alleviate ear eczema symptoms.

  1. Topical corticosteroid creams

Topical corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory medications that help reduce redness, itching, and swelling associated with eczema. They work by suppressing the immune response and inflammation in the affected area.

Apply a prescribed or over-the-counter corticosteroid cream to the affected areas of the ear canal as directed by your healthcare provider.

  1. Antifungal medications

Antifungal medications may be prescribed if the ear eczema is associated with a fungal infection. These medications target and eliminate the fungi responsible for the disease.

Antifungal ear drops containing drugs like clotrimazole or fluconazole may be recommended.

Administer the prescribed antifungal ear drops according to your healthcare provider’s instructions. Complete the entire duration of treatment, even if symptoms improve before the medication is finished.

  1. Antibiotics

Antibiotics may be advised if there is a secondary bacterial infection or if the ear eczema has led to open sores at risk of bacterial infection.

Oral antibiotics (e.g., amoxicillin, ciprofloxacin) or ear drops may be used.

Take oral antibiotics as prescribed by your healthcare provider. If antibiotic ear drops are prescribed, follow the instructions for application. Use antibiotics exactly as prescribed, and complete the entire course of treatment to prevent antibiotic resistance.

Bid farewell to the itch and irritation by getting connected with our doctor now!

Who is susceptible to ear eczema?

Ear eczema can affect individuals of any age, but it is more commonly seen in certain groups. Some factors that may increase the likelihood of developing ear eczema include:

  • History of eczema: Individuals with a personal or family history of eczema or atopic dermatitis have a genetic predisposition to skin conditions. 
  • Allergies: Allergic reactions to specific substances, such as metals, hair products, or ear drops, can trigger inflammation in the ear canal. The immune system’s response to allergens can lead to redness, itching, and other eczema symptoms.
  • Contact with Irritants: The natural protective oils in the ear canal can be stripped away by exposure to irritants such as strong soaps, shampoos, or water, leaving the skin more susceptible to irritation.
  •  Humid environments: The ear canal’s high humidity and moisture content might promote the growth of bacteria and fungi. The infections and inflammation may contribute to developing ear eczema.
  • Swimming: Water exposure, especially in chlorinated pools or contaminated water, can disrupt the natural balance of the ear canal. Prolonged exposure to water can soften the skin and make it more susceptible to irritation and infection, increasing the risk of ear eczema.
  • Compromised Immune System: Individuals with a weakened immune system, whether due to certain medical conditions or medications, may be more vulnerable to such infections. 

There are several trigger factors that, in some but not all cases, can make eczema worse; these include allergies to foods and other antigens in the environment. 

According to Dr. Golly, A pediatrician at the Department of General Medicine at RCH 

“Eczema is essentially extreme dryness. The number one enemy of eczema is extreme heat”.

In addition to allergies, several other trigger factors may worsen the eczema. These include:

  • Hot weather
  • Soaps that remove natural oils
  • Food allergy
  • Dust mite allergy
  • Staphylococcal germ infection on the skin
  • Skin virus infection (in particular herpes simplex

When can you expect to start feeling better after the treatment?

Treating ear eczema involves using different methods, each with its own timeline for improvement. If you’re using corticosteroid creams, you might notice things getting better within a few days to a week. In case of a fungal infection, antifungal medications can bring relief in about one to two weeks. Antibiotics may show improvement within a few days if needed for a bacterial infection. It’s important to discuss with your healthcare provider to figure out the best approach for your specific situation.

How do you prevent a recurrence of the condition after successful treatment?

Preventing the recurrence of ear eczema involves adopting a proactive approach to manage potential triggers and maintain ear health. Here are some strategies that may help prevent a recurrence after successful treatment : 

  • Identify and avoid triggers.
  • Maintain ear hygiene
  • Limit moisture exposure
  • Use mild skincare products.
  • Moisturize the ear canal.
  • Regular follow-up appointments
  • Manage stress
  • Consider allergen testing
  • Be mindful of ear protection.
Are you tired of dealing with ear eczema? Get safe treatment options now!

Talk to a doctor.

You should consult a doctor if you experience persistent symptoms of ear eczema, such as itching, redness, swelling, or discharge. Additionally, if over-the-counter remedies and home care measures do not provide relief or if the condition worsens, seek medical attention promptly. A healthcare professional can accurately diagnose the condition and recommend appropriate treatments to alleviate symptoms and prevent complications. Ignoring persistent ear eczema symptoms may lead to complications.

FAQs about ear eczema

How do I recognize ear eczema if I have darker skin?

Ear eczema in darker skin may present as areas of hyperpigmentation, redness, or dark patches. Itchiness, dryness, and discomfort are common symptoms.

Are there any common side effects associated with the treatment?

Potential side effects vary with treatment but may include skin thinning with corticosteroids or topical irritations. 

Is it safe to continue the treatment if I plan to become pregnant or am currently pregnant?

It seems that using mild to moderate steroid creams while pregnant is safe. When applied to the afflicted skin, they can aid in the relief of itching and other symptoms. Oral antihistamines: Antihistamines may be helpful since an individual with AEP may have a hyperactive immune system.

Your Doctors Online uses high-quality and trustworthy sources to ensure content accuracy and reliability. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and medical associations to provide up-to-date and evidence-based information to the users.

  • Nieto, Asensio. “Ear eczema. Impact on patient quality of life and healthcare costs.” Atencion Primaria 47.1 (2014): 67-68.
  • Hillen, U., J. Geier, and M. Goos. “Contact allergies in patients with eczema of the external ear canal. Results of the Information Network of Dermatological Clinics and the German Contact Allergy Group.” Der Hautarzt; Zeitschrift fur Dermatologie, Venerologie, und Verwandte Gebiete 51.4 (2000): 239-243.
  • Kay, James, et al. “The prevalence of childhood atopic eczema in a general population.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 30.1 (1994): 35-39.
  • Aguilera, Inmaculada, et al. “Early-life exposure to outdoor air pollution and respiratory health, ear infections, and eczema in infants from the INMA study.” Environmental health perspectives 121.3 (2013): 387-392.
  • Goh, Chee Leok. “Eczema of the face, scalp and neck: an epidemiological comparison by site.” The Journal of Dermatology 16.3 (1989): 223-226.

 

 

 

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