How to Treat Itchy Ears: 10 Tips and Remedies

Having an incessant itch in the ear that no amount of scratching can shake off can take a real toll on you. It keeps you from concentrating on anything else, sucks the fun out of everything, and makes you want to rip your ears off.

Sounds a bit extreme for a little harmless itch in the ear, but those who have suffered from it will vouch that it’s anything but little or harmless.

The human inner ear is very sensitive, and hence even a sudden change can lead to an onset of itchy ears.[1] The ear canal is innervated with sensitive neurological fibers, which make the ears just as responsive and prone to itching as any other part of the human body. The fact that we cannot view our ear cavity ourselves acts as an additional irritant and can drive us to probe the ear recklessly and too invasively for our own good.

itching in ears

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Despite being a commonly reported nuisance, most people who suffer from it find themselves at their wit’s end when dealing with this distressing problem. More often than not, they end up aggravating the problem by using unsterile and sharp objects like bobby pins, toothpicks, and coat hangers to relieve their itch. Forceful insertions of such abrasive tools into an area as sensitive as the ear canal can leave you with skin scraping and ruptures. This will, in turn, provide free entry to bacteria as well as other foreign particles and debris to lodge deeper into the skin, paving the way for a far more serious infection.

Causes of Itchy Ears

Some of the most common causes are:

  • Allergic reactions[2]
  • Ear infections
  • Ear dryness due to insufficient or no secretion of ear wax
  • Compulsive and intrusive ear cleaning that rids the cavity of the natural wax and the subsequent buildup of flakes of dry skin within the ear
  • Earwax accumulation, as the wax tends to get pushed and pile up further into the cavity by the constant probing with cleaning tools
  • Water trapped inside the ear
  • Hearing aid- or headphone-induced irritation
  • Ear canal dermatitis
  • Insect bites

At times, even psoriasis, eczema, or acne on the inner ear can trigger an itch.

A 2011 study published in BMC Ear, Nose and Throat Disorders reports that temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) have many symptoms and an itching ear is one of them.[3]

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A 2015 study published in Otolaryngology Online reports that there need not be an underlying bacterial or fungal infection to cause itching as evidenced by a condition called asteatosis. The study stresses the fact that it is important to consider asteatosis as one of the differential diagnosis for chronic and persistent itching when all other causes have been ruled out.[4]

Symptoms of Itchy Ears

Aside from the obvious (itchiness), an itchy ear can also have symptoms such as:

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  • Redness on the outside
  • Discharge or a type of drainage that comes from your ear
  • Pain and the affected area may feel very tender to the touch.
  • Fever
  • Swelling

Prevention

Because the ears are considered to be largely self-cleaning, you must refrain from indulging in unwarranted ear cleaning yourself. All of the following objects that are usually employed for maintaining ear hygiene can prove detrimental to the integrity of your eardrum:

  • Cotton balls
  • Cotton swabs
  • Paper clips
  • Bobby pins

Other preventive ways to stave off ear irritation and itching include the following:

  • Be careful when choosing ear jewelry, and avoid jewelry made of metals that might engender an allergic reaction that leads to itching.
  • If you are a frequent swimmer, use a solution to rid the ear of excess water.
  • Manage overproduction of earwax by using doctor-approved approaches, such as ear drops or a bulb syringe.
  • To save your ear cavity from excessive moisture, wear a shower cap while bathing.
  • Use mild shampoos and shower gels that are specifically formulated for sensitive skin.
  • If you use a hearing aid or use earplugs regularly, make a point to disinfect them from time to time and insert them gently so as not to irritate the ear.
  • Always keep your cell phone and earphones clean, as they can contribute to an ear infection.
  • Avoid touching your ears with dirty fingers.

When to See a Doctor

An itchy ear that is not rooted in some underlying infection or ailment is rarely a cause of concern and tends to clear on its own in a few days. However, if you encounter problems such as severe bleeding or drainage from your ears or sudden loss of hearing, drop everything and visit your doctor at once. Also, if the itch fails to subside within a week despite proper home care, medical help will be warranted to identify the underlying cause and address the symptoms. Understanding the cause behind an itchy ear is the key to a successful treatment plan.

Minor itching related to dry ears, too much earwax, or a mild infection can be successfully managed at home with the help of some simple and effective remedies.

how to treat itchy ears

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Here are the top 10 home remedies to treat an itchy ear.

1. Gravity

If you feel like water has entered your ears during swimming or while taking a shower or bath and this is the reason behind itchiness in your ear, allow gravity to take its course and work its magic.

Gravity will help remove all the fluid buildup in the affected ear.

  1. Tilt the side of your head with the affected ear parallel to the ground.
  2. Put a clean finger in your ear.
  3. Now, try to create a vacuum to help dislodge the fluid.
  4. Use a cotton bud or towel to clean up the discharge.

You can also simply lie down on your side with a towel under your ear.

This remedy can also help to cope with a case of swimmer’s ear.

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2. Warm Water

Flushing your ear with warm water is one of the best ways to get rid of excess earwax that can cause itchiness in the ear. The gentle force of the water will dislodge the wax, making it easier to remove from the ear. Be sure to use only distilled water.

A 2013 study published in the Journal of Laryngology & Otology reiterates that only distilled water should be used for softening earwax. The study found distilled water to be comparatively much more effective than water mixed with sodium bicarbonate or an oil-based solution for the purpose of disintegrating earwax.[5]

  1. Fill a rubber bulb syringe with slightly warm distilled water.
  2. Tilt your head upright and pull the outer ear to straighten the ear canal.
  3. Use the syringe to put a small amount of water into the ear canal.
  4. Leave it for a minute, and then drain it out by tilting your head to the opposite side.
  5. Clean away the water and earwax with a clean cloth.
  6. Repeat the process on the other ear.

3. Valsalva Maneuver

To remove clogged water from the middle ear, a simple pressure equalization technique known as the Valsalva maneuver can go a long way. It helps to relieve stuffiness and pain in the ear and reduce the itchiness.

This is further corroborated by 2011 study that found the Valsalva maneuver to be as effective as Toynbee maneuver and Ear Popper in equalizing middle ear pressure.[6]

  1. Close your mouth and pinch your nostrils closed with your fingers, and then take a deep breath.
  2. Blow air out of your nose to regulate the air pressure. If done correctly, you will hear a slight popping sound, which indicates the reopening of the Eustachian tubes.

Note: Don’t blow your nose too hard as it may cause damage to the eardrum. Also, if you have any heart conditions, especially abnormal heart rhythms, please consult your doctor before attempting this home remedy.

4. Olive Oil

One of the most well-known home remedies to relieve an itch in the ear is olive oil.

Olive oil helps remove excess earwax and keeps your ear canal adequately lubricated. It can soften the rigid ear wax, thereby facilitating its expulsion from the ear. Also, its antiseptic properties reduce the risk of ear infection.

A 2013 study published in Practice Nursing reports that regular olive oil lubrication increased the ear canal contents. However, olive oil sprayed into the ears immediately before removing wax enabled total wax removal.

However, further research is needed to provide improved evidence for ear care.[7]

Another 2003 study published in Pediatrics found that herbal ear drops containing olive oil helped to reduce pain ensuing from an ear infection in children.[8]

  1. Lie on your side with the affected ear facing up.
  2. Gently pull the outer part of your ear back.
  3. Put two or three drops of lukewarm olive oil in the opening of your ear using a dropper.
  4. Gently massage the skin at the front of the ear to help the oil work its way in.
  5. Remain on your side for 5 to 10 minutes.
  6. Wipe away any extra oil that drips from your ear when you sit up.
  7. Repeat in the other ear if needed.

5. Hydrogen Peroxide

To deal with itchiness in the ear due to wax buildup, hydrogen peroxide is very effective. In fact, many commercial ear drops contain hydrogen peroxide as one of the main ingredients.[9]

Hydrogen peroxide helps dilute the consistency of the wax and causes it to bubble up and move out of the ear.

  1. Mix equal parts of hydrogen peroxide (3%) and water.
  2. Fill an ear dropper with this solution.
  3. Tilt your head sideways and put a few drops of this solution into the ear. Maintain this position for some time.
  4. Then, tilt your head to the opposite side to drain out the solution.
  5. Wipe away the earwax using a clean cloth.
  6. Repeat this process for your other ear.

6. White Vinegar

White vinegar is another effective ingredient to get rid of an itchy ear.[10]

However, it works best when combined with rubbing alcohol. While the vinegar helps dissolve the earwax, the rubbing alcohol serves as a drying agent and helps evaporate any residual liquid from the ear.[11] Moreover, vinegar also prevents the ear from any kind of infection.

  1. Mix equal parts of white vinegar and rubbing alcohol in a bowl.
  2. Soak a cotton ball in the solution.
  3. Tilt the affected ear toward the sky and then squeeze 2 or 3 drops of this solution into the ear.
  4. Wait for 5 minutes, and tilt your head to the opposite direction so that gravity can exert its action and push the solution and the wax out of the ear cavity.
  5. Remove the earwax from the outer ear with an earbud.

7. Warm Compress

If the cause of itchiness in the ear is acne, then warm compresses can be extremely useful in drying out the acne. Once the acne is healed, the itchiness will be gone.[12]

The heat from a warm compress helps reduce inflammation and irritation, which in turn can soften the acne to bring the pus to the surface. Plus, the warmth helps reduce any pain.

  1. Soak a washcloth in warm water and squeeze out the excess.
  2. Apply the warm compress on the ear for 5 minutes.
  3. Use a gentle cleanser to wash the ear.
  4. Use this remedy twice daily for a few days.

8. Blow Dryer

To help evaporate the trapped fluid and internal ear dampness which may be the reason behind the itchiness, a blow dryer can come in handy.

The warm, dry air will turn the water into steam and eventually help it dissipate out of the ear.

  1. Pull your earlobe away from your body.
  2. Hold a blow dryer about 10 to 12 inches away from your ear.
  3. Set the dryer heat to warm and air flow to low.
  4. Turn the dryer on and aim it directly into the ear canal.
  5. Hold the dryer in position for approximately 30 seconds.
  6. If required, repeat again.

Note: Do not expose your ear to the dryer heat for more than a few minutes at a stretch.

9. Keep Your Ears Dry

Be it ear discharge or a severe infection that may be causing the itchiness in the ears, keeping your ears dry as much as possible will help a lot.

Any moisture in the ear can cause infection.

  • Dry your ears thoroughly after exposure to moisture from swimming or bathing. Dry only your outer ear, wiping it slowly and gently with a soft towel or cloth. Tilt your head to the side to help water drain from your ear canal.
  • To prevent getting water in your ear canals when bathing, coat 2 cotton balls with petroleum jelly and put 1 in each of the outer ears.

10. Maintain Good Ear Health

To prevent any kind of ear problems, including itchiness in the ears, maintaining proper ear health is very important.[13]

  • Don’t use cotton swabs to clean the inside of your ear canal. It can ultimately cause more damage than good.
  • Regularly clean the outside of your ears using a cotton ball, some warm water, and mild soap. Keeping the outside clean will help keep debris and allergens out of your ear canal.
  • Always wear earplugs when swimming to keep water and debris out of your ears and prevent an infection from occurring.
  • Also, wear earplugs when attending loud concerts or other noisy events.

Additional Tips

  • Yawning or chewing motions can also help get water out of the ear canal by creating pressure in the middle ear and stretching the ear canal.
  • Clean your outer ears regularly to prevent oil, dead skin cells, and other debris from sliding into the cavity and piling up within.
  • Avoid putting foreign objects in your ear.
  • Protect your ears from irritants by putting cotton balls in your ears while applying products such as hair sprays and hair dyes. Be sure not to insert them too deep, however.
  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to your home environment if you suffer from dry ears.

Resources:

  1. Otorhinolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery. Otorhinolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery . https://med.uth.edu/orl/online-ear-disease-photo-book/chapter-15-miscellaneous/itchy-ears/.
  2. Bernstein DI, Teper A, Gopalan G, Gates D. Effects of intranasal mometasone furoate on itchy ear and palate in patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22541408. Published May 2012.
  3. Kitsoulis P, Marini A, Iliou K. Signs and Symptoms of Temporomandibular Joint Disorders Related to the Degree of Mouth Opening and Hearing Loss. BMC Ear Nose & Throat Disorder. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3117795/. Published May 25, 2011.
  4. Rai S. Microbiology of itchy ears. Orontology Online Journal. https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Microbiology-of-itchy-ears-Rai/f56a59e9238cf7637bcfea1ce423b7486f945ad8. Published January 2015.
  5. Saxby C, Williams R, Hickey S. Finding the most effective cerumenolytic. The Journal of Laryngology & Otology. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-laryngology-and-otology/article/finding-the-most-effective-cerumenolytic/94EA5C9F4BCF30FCFE3F43470A6B102E. Published November 2013.
  6. Hidir Y, Ulus S, Karahatay S, Satar B. A comparative study on efficiency of middle ear pressure equalization techniques in healthy volunteers. Auris Nasus Larynx. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21216116. Published August 2011.
  7. Rodgers R. Does olive oil prevent earwax build-up? An experimental study. Practice Nursing. https://www.magonlinelibrary.com/doi/abs/10.12968/pnur.2013.24.4.191. Published September 29, 2013.
  8. Sarrell EM, Cohen HA, Kahan E. Naturopathic Treatment for Ear Pain in Children. Pediatrics. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/111/5/e574.long. Published May 1, 2003.
  9. Hand C, Harvey I. The effectiveness of topical preparations for the treatment of earwax: a systematic review. British Journal of General Practice. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1324923/. Published November 1, 2004.
  10. Otitis externa: Get rid of swimmer’s ear. University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics. https://uihc.org/health-topics/otitis-externa-get-rid-swimmers-ear. Published June 2017.
  11. Collier S, Beach M, Brady M. Swimmer’s ear a mild but burdensome illness. AAP Gateway. http://www.aappublications.org/content/32/6/1.2. Published June 1, 2011.
  12. Stenfors LE, Henriksen AO. Treatment of earache among the Lappish people. The Journal of Laryngology & Otology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2324615. Published February 1990.
  13. Conductive Hearing Loss. ENT Health. https://www.enthealth.org/conditions/conductive-hearing-loss/.

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