What to do if you’ve been experiencing itchy, flakey skin inside your ears.
Medically reviewed by Dr Roger Henderson and words by Stuart Gale
Stressed out by incessantly itchy inner ears? If ear canal itching and flakiness is driving you to distraction, try not to worry. Flaky skin inside the ear canals is usually a symptom of eczema, which is easily treatable.
Eczema can be an itchy, irritating and downright painful condition, but it can seem even worse when it appears in sensitive areas of the body, such as inside the ears.
Stuart Gale, chief pharmacist and owner of Oxford Online Pharmacy offers his expert tips on how to manage this common but aggravating condition:
What is eczema?
Eczema is a condition which causes skin to become red, itchy, dry and cracked. It usually affects areas with folds of skin, such as the inside of elbows and knees, and around the neck, eyes and ears.
What causes eczema in your ears?
The exact causes are unknown, but it usually affects people with allergies, such as asthma and hay fever. It can also run in families, and if you are predisposed to eczema, the condition may be triggered by allergens in the environment, such as dust, dust mites or pollen.
If you are predisposed to eczema, the condition may be triggered by allergens in the environment.
In many cases, some types of food can act as allergens that trigger eczema – common culprits include milk, eggs, nuts and wheat.
Eczema can also be triggered by other factors including cold weather, rough clothing, harsh soaps, washing too much, stress and excessive sweating.
Ear eczema symptoms
If you have eczema in your ears, your ears will likely be red, itchy and dry, with cracked skin either around the ear, behind it or inside the ear canal itself.
How is eczema diagnosed?
Your GP will diagnose eczema by examining the area and using an otoscope. This will enable them to see the symptoms up close, as well as determining whether or not there is an infection.
What treatments are available for eczema?
You may need an anti-fungal treatment for any infection you may have, as well as a topical steroid to reduce inflammation and itching. Inside the ear, you should only use ear drops, not creams, particularly if the eczema is in the ear canal itself.
What should you do if eczema gets infected?
It’s important to see your doctor if you feel that your (or your child’s) eczema has become infected. Signs of an infection can include:
- Fluid oozing from the skin.
- Eczema getting worse.
- A yellow crust on the skin surface, or small yellowish-white spots appearing in the eczema.
- The skin becoming swollen and sore.
- A high temperature (fever) and generally feeling unwell.
You will need to see a doctor if you have any discharge coming out of your ear, or if you have pain in your ear. If you have flu-like symptoms with any infection, you should also see your GP.
Self-help tips to ease eczema in your ears
Firstly, try not to scratch the area, as this can cause cracks in the skin, leaving you open to infection. Wash your ears with warm water each night (making sure you dry them thoroughly afterwards) and avoid any irritants.
Emollients are moisturising treatments that soothe the skin to reduce dryness, cracking and itching. They are frequently used to control the symptoms, and tend to come as creams, ointments, lotions or bath additives.
The right choice for you will depend on your skin and the severity of your symptoms, but in general, ointments are the best for very dry skin (although they’re the most greasy to use). Emollients are also useful as a substitute for soap, which can be very drying to the skin.
✔️ Topical corticosteroids
If you find emollients are not quite providing the level of relief that you need, topical corticosteroids might be an option. These are steroid creams and ointments that are applied to the skin, to help reduce the redness and inflammation during flare-ups. The steroids vary in strength.
Smaller packs of mild steroids can be bought without a prescription. For larger pack sizes and stronger doses, as well as creams with other added ingredients to tackle infections, a prescription from your GP will be required.