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Itchy Ear

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 3 minutes read

It's quite common to get an itchy ear. There can be a number of causes, so if this persists past a few days, it's worth getting checked out. If you suffer from psoriasis, eczema or dry skin, this can also affect your ear canal, where debris from dead skin cells builds up and irritates. If you've been on holiday, "Mediterranean ear" can develop as a result of sweating and bathing in hot climates. Hard Earwax can build up and irritate, with some reporting an itch as the primary symptom, and if a good solid blockage of the eardrum, you may also suffer a loss of hearing.

Otitis externa describes inflammation in the lining of the ear canal and can be associated with infection - in this case, the ear would be painful (often described as earache) more than itchy, and you may also have a cough or cold and fever.

Doctor’s advice

Is it contagious?

There is nothing inherently contagious about the causes of an itchy ear. Although you might want to wash your hands after handling the contents of another person’s ear.

The important rule of thumb is - no matter how bad the itch - nothing smaller than your elbow should go in your ear. This includes poking or cleaning it with cotton buds, fingernails, knitting needles - the ear is self-cleaning and does not need any help, and cotton buds will push any wax towards to eardrum and can cause damage.

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

An itchy ear can have a number of causes, from irritation due to wax, eczema or dryness and flakiness of skin along the ear canal.

So long as there is no bleeding, or discharge coming from the ear, or any eardrum problems, it is generally safe to try some olive oil ear drops, or spray. This can help to moisturise any dry skin in the ear canal, and additionally can soften any ear wax, allowing it to come out naturally. It can be applied to the outer ear as an emollient if needed.

For particularly troublesome itchiness, you can also consider using antihistamine tablets such as 'Piriton' (containing the medication chlorphenamine) which is particularly effective for itchy skin and can be used to reduce any itch of the outer ear canal. Piriton can cause drowsiness, so if this is not practical, then other less drowsy antihistamines such as 'Clarityn' (contains loratadine) or 'Piriteze' (containing the medication cetirizine) may be used instead.

Am I fit for work?

You are likely to be fit for work with an itchy ear, unless you also feel unwell or feverish.

When should I see my doctor?

If your itchy ear is accompanied by pain, discharge from the ear or hearing loss, or you also have a fever, you should book an urgent appointment with your doctor. If the itch is bearable but persisting for more than a few days, and over-the-counter treatments have not helped, you should book an appointment with your doctor. They will listen to the problem and examine you. They may suggest treatments or they can refer you to an ear-nose-throat specialist if necessary.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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