Although ears play a key role in allowing people to interact with the world around them, most people usually don’t notice their ears until they start developing problems. Dry ear canal skin is a seemingly mild problem that could arise from multiple causes and may lead to more serious ear issues if disregarded. Learning the facts about dry ear canal skin can help you pinpoint the cause of your ear woes and seek appropriate treatment.
The ear canal is a narrow, curving tube that connects the external part of your ear -- called the auricle -- to the eardrum or tympanic membrane, which separates the ear canal from the middle ear. Lined with sensitive skin, the ear canal serves promotes hearing by channeling sound waves to the middle ear. Special glands -- called ceruminous glands -- in the outer third of your ear canal are responsible for the production of earwax, a sticky substance that lubricates and protects the ear canal skin.
Dry skin on the ear canal could be cause by a skin condition, lack of earwax or ear cleaning issues. Skin conditions such as dermatitis, psoriasis and eczema could affect the sensitive ear canal skin, potentially leading to skin irritation, especially in individuals with a history of sensitive skin or skin problems. According to the American Academy of Otolarygology-Head and Neck Surgery, lack of earwax in your ear canals could also lead to dry or itchy ears 1. Similarly, cleaning your ears too frequently, especially with cotton-tipped swabs, could wipe away the earwax lining the ear canals, which may result in dry or irritated ear canal skin.
Dry ear canal skin typically shows itself in the form of irritation or itchiness. You may feel the need to scratch or rub at your ear frequently, which could actually result in a secondary bacterial infection of the external ear if you abrade your ear canal skin accidentally, according to “Johns Hopkins Family Health Book.” Often the irritated ear canal skin has a red, inflamed appearance, and you may actually be able to see loose flakes of dry skin accumulating at the entrance of the affected canal 2.
Chronic or ongoing irritation from dry ear canal skin generally requires a visit to your doctor. Dry skin and itching arising from skin disorders or an infection typically require medication, often in the form of topical ear drops. If your ears simply lack the ability to produce adequate amounts of earwax, you may need to start using ear drops regularly to lubricate and moisturize your ear canal skin. If your doctor finds no underlying cause for your dry ear canal skin, stopping vigorous cleaning of your ears is often all that’s necessary for you to experience improvement in the itching and dryness.
In many cases, environment plays a role in increasing your chances of experiencing dry skin in your ear canal. Swimmers often find that the increased exposure to water dries their ear skin, making them more prone to irritated ear canal skin and external ear infections, which are aptly nicknamed swimmer’s ear. Wearing perfume, cosmetics or ear devices like hearing aids can also irritate your ears. Barbara Weinstein, Ph.D., author of “Geriatric Audiology,” points out that ear canal skin dryness often arises as a natural part of the aging process 3.
- American Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery: Earwax
- “Johns Hopkins Family Health Book”; Johns Hopkins University; 1999
- “Geriatric Audiology”; Barbara Weinstein, Ph.D.; 2000
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