Eczema (Also known as Atopic Dermatitis) is the name for a group of conditions that cause dry, flaky, itchy or inflamed skin 1. It can appear anywhere on the body, including on and inside the ears.
Ear eczema can flare up suddenly and for no apparent reason, but it may also be triggered by contact with irritants such as fragrances, soaps, shampoos, hair dyes or metal jewellery 2.
Eczema is very common and highly treatable, but in the ears can lead to inflammation and infection of the ear canal if left unaddressed.
Symptoms of Ear Eczema
Ear eczema causes the same symptoms as eczema that appears on other parts of the body.
The symptoms of ear eczema can be seen inside the ear, around the ears and in the crease where the ear meets the head, which include 3:
- Dry, flaky skin around the outside of the ear
- Dry, flaky skin inside the ear canal
- Redness and swelling inside or around the ear
- Itchiness inside or around the ear
- Clear discharge leaking from the affected ear
Eczema is usually very itchy and often causes scratching. This can lead to more severe symptoms, such as:
- Swollen, red or darkened skin
- Dry, sensitive skin
- Rough, scaly skin
- Bleeding, oozing or crusting of affected areas
- Infections in the ear canal
Scratching and dryness caused by ear eczema can also put you at higher risk of developing infections. The symptoms of infected ear eczema include 4:
- Aching pain in the ear
- Excessive redness in the ear
- Green or yellow discharge from the ear
- Flu-like symptoms
Causes of Ear Eczema
There are several different types of ear eczema. Each type of ear eczema has a different set of triggers 5.
Causes of Allergic Contact Dermatitis
Flare ups of allergic contact dermatitis (Also known as allergic eczema) are caused by contact with specific allergens or irritants. Common triggers for allergic ear eczema include:
- Cell phones
- Metal earrings
- Hair products (like shampoos, sprays, gels and waxes, etc.)
- Moisturizing lotions
Causes of Seborrheic Dermatitis
Seborrheic dermatitis (Also known as seborrheic eczema) mainly affects the scalp and other oily areas of the body, including the ears, eyelids, eyebrows, sides of the nose, face and chest 6. This type of eczema can also cause flaking of the scalp, and is often called dandruff.
Doctors don’t know the exact causes of seborrheic eczema, though it may be the result of an irregular immune response or the presence of a type of yeast on the skin.
Causes of Asteatotic Eczema
Asteatotic eczema (Also known as xerotic eczema) is caused by dry skin, and is more likely to affect older people 7. This type of eczema may also be caused by:
- Living in low humidity environments (e.g. in cold climates, at high altitude, in a desert etc.)
- Excessive bathing using soaps and detergents
Diagnosis of Ear Eczema
Ear eczema is usually diagnosed with a basic physical examination 8. The doctor will examine the area around and inside your ears for dryness, irritation and inflammation. They may also check for possible signs of infection in the ear canal.
Your doctor will likely also ask about your symptoms and family medical history to aid their diagnosis. If they think your ear irritation could have another possible cause (such as psoriasis) they may perform a biopsy to rule this out. During a biopsy, a small sample of cells will be taken from the affected area and sent away for a laboratory analysis.
Ear Eczema Treatments
In most cases, ear eczema can be successfully treated with a combination of trigger avoidance and home remedies.
Home Remedies For Ear Eczema
Patients with eczema in and around the ears can reduce symptoms by themselves at home with maintenance procedures, which include 9:
- Washing the ears each night with warm water - This will help to keep the affected area clean and promote healing. Use warm water (avoid hot) and gently but thoroughly dry your ears after washing.
- Using a fragrance-free moisturizer on the ears - Dry skin is a common eczema trigger, so moisturizing your ears regularly can help to prevent flare-ups. Use a fragrance-free moisturizer immediately after washing to lock in moisture.
- Protecting the ears from cold weather - Cold weather can dry out the skin and trigger an ear-eczema flare-up. Protect your ears from the harsh winter weather by wrapping them up in a hat or scarf.
- Avoiding triggers - Allergic eczema is triggered by exposure to certain allergens or irritants. Common triggers include metal jewellery, fragrances and hair products. Once you’ve identified your trigger, avoid making contact with it to prevent future flare-ups.
- Switching to fragrance-free moisturizers, lotions and soaps - Fragrances can irritate sensitive skin and may lead to an eczema flare-up. Switch to fragrance-free products or choose brands that are suitable for sensitive skin.
Medical Treatment for Ear Eczema
In some cases, home remedies aren’t enough to effectively treat ear eczema. People with severe or persistent ear eczema may be prescribed medicated products to alleviate the symptoms.
- Topical steroids and antifungal creams - In some cases, medicated creams, gels or lotions may be used to treat ear eczema. The type of treatment you need will depend on which type of ear eczema you have 10. Atopic, seborrheic and asteatotic eczema may all be treated using topical steroids. In cases of seborrheic eczema, your doctor may prescribe a topical steroid combined with an antifungal treatment.
- Medicated ear drops - If you have eczema inside your ear canal, your doctor may prescribe steroid ear drops to clear the rash away.
- Antibiotics - You will only be prescribed antibiotics if your ear eczema has become infected.
Current Eczema Clinical Trials
At Clara Health, we have our own patient-focused database for Current Eczema Clinical Trials to help you match with a study that best fits your life situation!
Quick Facts About Eczema
How Common Is Eczema?
Eczema is a very common skin condition, and is thought to affect around 31.6 million people in the USA. That means that over 10% of people in the United States have some form of eczema 11.
Eczema can affect any part of the body, but it most commonly appears behind the ears, on the hands and feet, on the insides of elbows, on the backs of knees or on the face or buttocks 12.
Is Eczema More Common In Men or Women?
Eczema affects men and women equally 13.
Eczema Statistics By Age
Anyone can get eczema, but the condition is far more common in children than adults. Eczema is thought to affect 15-20% of children worldwide, compared to just 1-3% of adults 14.
The majority of people with eczema will start to develop symptoms very early on in life. Symptoms usually appear before the age of 5 years old, and are most commonly seen in infants between the ages of 3 and 6 months 15. Around 60% of people with eczema will show symptoms by the time they reach their first birthday, and 90% will have symptoms by the time they are 5 years old.
Eczema Statistics By Race
Eczema can affect anyone, but certain ethnic groups are more at risk than others. One US study found that the condition affects 19.3% of African American children, 16.1% of Caucasia children and just 7.8% of Asian children 16.
However, adult-onset eczema appears to be more common in Asian countries than it is in Western countries.
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