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Itchy Ear Canal: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

What is Itchy Ear Canal?

The itchy ear canal is often caused due to inflamed, flaky skin inside the ear. This condition happens due to damage due to water logging or infection caused by bacterial and fungal agents.

Medically termed as Otitis Externa, symptoms include dry and flaky skin, sore feel accompanied with pain and itchiness. In particular cases, foul smelling watery discharge also takes place.

[Note: This condition is quite common and won’t result in hearing loss. However inserting sharp or pointy objects inside the ear canal for itching purposes should be avoided. The scenario could lead to perforated ear drum, inflammation and even severe infection from trauma to the delicate skin.]

itchy ear canal

Symptoms of Itchy Ear Canal

If any of the following symptoms are observed, it could be a case of Otitis Externa or Itchy Ear Canal:

  • Mild to severe case of Otalgia (or ear ache) progressing over a period of 1- 2 days
  • Temporary hearing loss
  • Feeling pressure build up in the ear
  • Erythema (superficial skin reddening)
  • Edema (excess collection of watery fluid in the ear canal)
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Mild to high fever
  • Itchy feeling
  • Foul smelling discharge from the ear

Diagnosis for Itchy Ear Canal

Depending on the medical history and lifestyle of the patient, the doctor could diagnose using the following methods:

Lab tests

  • Gram stain test and culture of the discharge from the ear canal
  • Determination of blood sugar level
  • Dipstick test on urine sample

Imaging tests

  • CT Scan (Computed Tomography) – for the determination of bone erosion
  • Radionucleotide bone scanning
  • Gallium scanning
  • MRI scans (Magnetic resonance imaging) for examination of soft tissue

Causes for Itchy Ear Canal

Following are some of the causes that result in Itchy Ear Canal:

  • Fungal infections: These infections around the groin or any part of the body are prone to spread. They may even spread to the ears and cause the disease
  • Skin conditions: Psoriasis or eczema can cause itchy ear canal. It is strongly advised to maintain personal hygiene to curb the spread
  • Swimming: Poorly maintained pool water becomes the breeding ground for germs and fungal agents. If contaminated water enters the ear canal, it results in infection especially if the skin inside the ear is damaged
  • Dry skin: In some cases, the presence of low ear wax can result in drying up of the sensitive skin in the ear canal causing itchiness
  • Cotton buds: Extensive usage results in accumulation of earwax tightly in front of the ear drum. It is strongly advised to seek medical help for cleaning up the ear if there is an excess buildup of wax and debris
  • Weather: Increased humidity increases the chances of developing an ear infection
  • Hair or bath products: Residual substances from products like shampoo, hairspray, styling gel, etc. can lead to ear canal infection and itching. If these materials get inside the ear, seeking medical assistance is advised
  • Trauma to ear canal: Individuals who have the habit of constantly scratching the insides of the ear by inserting sharp, pointy and elongated objects are at high risk of developing ear infections. This results due to damages suffered by the sensitive skin of the ear canal.

Itchy Ear Canal Prevention

The following list of objects should never be used to clean your ear:

  • Cotton balls
  • Cotton swabs (or earbuds)
  • Paper clips
  • Bobby pins

Other preventive measures include:

  • Restrict the bath products and water entering the insides of the ear while taking a shower
  • Wear a swimming headband especially while swimming in a public pool, to keep the ears dry
  • Use olive oil for regular cleaning and water proofing
  • Avoid inserting sharp objects into the ear for itching
  • After taking a shower avoid wearing hearing aids or headphones. Waiting until the ear is completely dry is recommended to prevent fungus build up

Home remedies to Prevent Itchy Ear Canal

Given below are some home remedies that can be adopted to soothe out symptoms for Itchy Ear Canal.

[Note: It is strongly advised to seek medical attention if the symptoms are persistent and severe. The following remedies recommended for mild cases.]

  • Use Warm Oil: Pouring a few drops of hot oil (olive, mineral or vegetable oil) can soothe the itchy feeling
  • Wax Removal: Excess wax buildup could result in blockage of the ear drum and temporary hearing loss. Ensure that you sleep with the itchy ear facing the roof. Place a warm water bottle on the ear for softening of the ear wax. For removing the softened ear wax, cotton tipped swabs can be used.
  • Avoid Moisture: Wearing a swim cap while taking a dip in the pool is advised to prevent moisture build up in the ear canal. Ear plugs lined with petroleum jelly can also be used to prevent the water from entering the ears.
  • Use Peroxide to Remove Wax: For rinsing and loosening of ear wax, a mixture of baby oil and peroxide can be utilized.

Additional tips

  • Always remove debris and excess ear wax by swabbing away with cotton wool and soft towels
  • Avoid using jewelry or earplugs if they contribute in causing allergic reactions to your ear
  • Avoid swimming until the infection of the ear gets completely cured
  • Excessive ear wax build up should be at a manageable level. Consulting a medical practitioner is strongly advised

Treatments for Itchy Ear Canal

Medicated treatments include:

Topical medications

  • Aluminum acetate with acetic acid
  • acetic acid otic and hydrocortisone solution
  • vinegar alcohol otic mix

Analgesic agents

  • Aacetaminophen
  • Acetaminophen
  • Codeine

Antibiotics

  • Hydrocortisone
  • Polymyxin Botic ofloxacin
  • neomycin
  • Ciprofloxacin

Antifungal agents

  • Nystatin powder
  • Otic clotrimazole 1% solution

When to see the doctor?

If any of the following symptoms are present, it is strongly advised to seek medical help as soon as possible:

  • A swelling/knot behind or under the ear
  • Pain in the facial muscles
  • High fever
  • Seizures

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