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What is ear eczema?
Ear eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a condition that causes your skin to become dry, discolored, itchy and bumpy. It may appear on the outside of your ear or inside your ear canal.
Eczema damages the skin barrier function (the “glue” of your skin). As a result, your skin becomes more sensitive and more prone to infection and dryness.
What is the difference between psoriasis and ear eczema?
Psoriasis and ear eczema are two different skin conditions. They differ in where the disease appears on your body, how much it itches and how it looks.
Psoriasis is a chronic skin disorder, which means it’s a skin condition that doesn’t go away. People with psoriasis have thick, discolored patches of skin (plaques) covered with white or silvery scales.
Ear eczema affects the skin in, on and around your ears. Eczema also causes more intense itching than psoriasis. Many people, especially children, can get both eczema and psoriasis.
Who does ear eczema affect?
Ear eczema can affect anyone with ears. However, it’s more common in people with:
- A personal or family history of eczema.
- Environmental allergies.
- Hay fever (allergic rhinitis).
How common is ear eczema?
Eczema is very common, and any part of your skin can develop it, including your ears. Approximately 15% to 30% of children have eczema, and 2% to 10% of adults have it.
How does ear eczema affect my body?
Ear eczema affects your ears, including:
- Your outer ears (pinna), including your ear lobes.
- Your inner ears, including your ear canals.
- Behind your ears.
- The skin between your ears and your face.
Your skin may itch, change color, develop bumps, dry out or thicken.
In severe cases of ear eczema, your skin may crack or leak (weep) a thick, yellow or white fluid (pus). You may also experience a ringing noise (tinnitus) or hearing loss if you have a severe case of ear eczema in your ear canals.
Symptoms and Causes
What does ear eczema look like?
Symptoms of ear eczema include:
- Itchy skin.
- Dry skin.
- Discolored rashes.
- Bumps on your skin.
- Leathery patches of skin.
- Crusty skin.
Ear eczema doesn’t hurt. However, if you scratch your ear eczema, you may break your skin, leading to an infection that can cause pain.
Why do I get eczema in my ears?
Eczema can develop anywhere on your skin, including your ears. Different types of eczema can develop in your ears, including:
- Allergic eczema (contact dermatitis): Your immune system overreacts to minor irritants or allergens if you have allergic eczema. This overreaction can inflame your skin. Common irritants and allergens include earrings, hair and skin care products, food, pollen, cell phones or headphones.
- Asteatotic eczema: Asteatotic eczema commonly affects people 65 years of age and older. Changes in the weather or temperature cause asteatotic eczema, and it tends to flare up during the winter season. Low humidity (dry air) can cause your skin to become dry and itchy. Harsh soaps, wool and hair and skin care products can also cause it.
- Seborrheic dermatitis: Seborrheic dermatitis commonly affects the oily parts of your body, including your ears, scalp, nose and chest. No one knows exactly what causes seborrheic dermatitis, but a surplus of a type of yeast on the surface of your skin may be the cause.
Is ear eczema contagious?
Ear eczema isn’t contagious. You can’t spread ear eczema to another person through skin-to-skin contact.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is ear eczema diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will examine your ears. They’ll look for common signs of eczema, including discoloration and dryness. They may use a lighted instrument (otoscope) to look inside your ear. They’ll also ask about your symptoms.
What tests will be done to diagnose ear eczema?
Your healthcare provider can typically diagnose ear eczema after a physical exam. However, if there’s any doubt, they may perform the following tests:
- An allergy skin test.
- Blood tests to check for causes of a rash that might be unrelated to ear eczema.
- A skin biopsy to distinguish one type of dermatitis from another.
Management and Treatment
How do I get rid of eczema in my ears?
To get rid of your ear eczema, it’s important to determine what’s causing it. Try to determine what triggers or worsens your ear eczema, and then avoid it. The goal is to reduce itching and discomfort and prevent infection and additional flare-ups.
The following home remedies may relieve your ear eczema:
- Avoid common allergens, including earrings made of nickel, cobalt or copper.
- Use a humidifier if dry air makes your skin dry.
- Wear a warm hat that covers your ears when you’re out in cold weather.
- Avoid rubbing or scratching your skin.
- Apply a hydrocortisone cream or ointment. Hydrocortisone is a corticosteroid combined with an anesthetic pain reliever. It relieves itching and discoloration.
- Moisturize your skin using a cream or ointment. Lotions usually don’t work as well. Apply several times a day, including after your bath or shower. Moisturizers help trap moisture in the skin.
- Bathe or shower in lukewarm — not hot — water. Gently wash your ears. Limit the amount of time you spend in the water to under 15 minutes.
- Use mild soaps and hair and skin care products that are free of perfumes, dyes and alcohol. Look for products labeled “fragrance-free,” “hypoallergenic” or “for sensitive skin.”
- Use mild laundry soap, and thoroughly rinse your clothes.
- Use skin products that contain ceramide. These products replace some of the “glue” (the barrier) missing from your skin.
- Wear cotton clothes. Wool, silk and other fabrics can dry your skin.
- Take over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines for severe itching.
- Take prescription medications. Your healthcare provider may prescribe steroid creams, pills, shots or ear drops. Long-term risks include side effects like high blood pressure, weight gain and thinning of the skin. There are newer medications, called topical immunomodulators (TIMs), that show progress in treating patients who don’t respond to other treatments. They change the body’s immune response to allergens and have fewer side effects.
- Try phototherapy. Phototherapy uses ultraviolet light, usually ultraviolet B (UVB), from special lamps. The ultraviolet light waves found in sunlight can help certain skin disorders, including eczema.
Will petroleum jelly help ear eczema?
Petroleum jelly (Vaseline™) or skin care ointments (Aquaphor™) can help treat your ear eczema. These products moisturize and protect your affected skin. They’re hypoallergenic and have antibacterial and antifungal characteristics that help heal your skin.
Gently wash your ears with warm running water and mild soap. Then, use a cotton swab to apply a small amount of petroleum jelly or skin care ointment over your ears. Try to avoid touching your ears to prevent dirt or bacteria from entering the area.
How soon after treatment will I feel better?
With proper treatment, your ear eczema should go away after one to three weeks. However, no treatment can claim to eliminate the symptoms of ear eczema 100% of the time. You may encounter flare-ups on or in your ears for the rest of your life. Once you determine the cause of your flare-ups, you may prevent flare-ups from happening as often.
How can I reduce my risk?
There are steps you can take that may prevent ear eczema outbreaks:
- Establish a skin care routine, and follow your healthcare professional’s recommendations for keeping your skin healthy.
- Avoid wool and silk, which can dry out your skin.
- Use a mild soap for your bath or shower, and pat your skin dry instead of rubbing it. Apply a moisturizing cream or ointment immediately after drying your skin to help seal in the moisture. Reapply cream or ointment two to three times a day.
- Take baths or showers with lukewarm water, not hot water.
- Drink at least eight glasses of water each day. Water helps keep your skin moist.
- Avoid sudden changes in temperature and humidity.
- Limit your exposure to known irritants and allergens.
- Avoid scratching or rubbing your irritated skin.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have ear eczema?
If you have ear eczema, it can generally be well-managed with good skin care and treatment. However, flare-ups of symptoms can occur throughout your life.
Can ear eczema be cured?
Ear eczema is a chronic condition, which means there isn’t a cure. However, treatments are very effective in reducing the symptoms of dry, itchy skin.
How do I take care of myself?
Many people live with ear eczema. It can be challenging, though.
There may be times when your ear eczema disappears. These times are “remission” periods. The goal of a good skin care routine and treatment is to prevent flare-ups. Be sure to avoid anything that triggers your ear eczema, moisturize, take your medicine and follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations.
When should I see my healthcare provider?
See your healthcare provider as soon as you notice symptoms. Get treatment right away.
What questions should I ask my doctor?
- How can you tell that I have ear eczema?
- What kind of ear eczema do I have?
- If I don’t have ear eczema, what other skin condition might I have?
- Is there a specific brand of moisturizer or skin care ointment that you recommend?
- Is there a prescription cream or ointment that you can prescribe?
- Should I see a dermatologist or another specialist?
- What soaps, lotions, hair care products and other skin care products should I avoid?
- What medications do you recommend?
- What at-home treatments do you recommend?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Ear eczema is annoying and embarrassing, and it can be alarming if it impacts your hearing. It can affect your quality of life or make you feel self-conscious. However, it’s common and very normal. With a proper skin care routine and treatment, you can reduce its impact. See your healthcare provider as soon as you notice signs of ear eczema.
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