Itching in the inner ear is most commonly caused by ear dryness, earwax buildup, allergies, infection or skin conditions. Understanding the cause is the key to a successful treatment plan. Minor itching related to dry ears or too much earwax may be successfully treated at home, but a medical evaluation is important if you have persistent itching or pain.
Sometimes a hot, cold or windy environment causes the ear canals to dry out. Aggressive removal of cerumen from the ear canal can also lead to dryness. In most cases, the best remedy for dry ears is to stop removing earwax and protect your ears from harsh environments. Adding a few drops of vegetable oil to the dry ear canal may also help provide a temporary layer of protection. If home treatment doesn't resolve dry ears, see your doctor.
- Sometimes a hot, cold or windy environment causes the ear canals to dry out.
- Adding a few drops of vegetable oil to the dry ear canal may also help provide a temporary layer of protection.
What Causes Itchy Ears?
The body has a way of getting rid of excess cerumen. The tiny hairs that line the ear canal, along with normal jaw movements, gradually move the excess towards the ear opening, where it can fall out or get cleared away after bathing. If allowed to build up, however, cerumen can cause irritation and itching in the ear canal. Foreign objects -- such as cotton swabs or bobby pins -- should not be used to remove this wax, as they can scratch or injure the inner ear and remove too much wax. Instead, treat excess cerumen with drops of oil, glycerin, commercial drops or hydrogen peroxide. When the wax softens, it may come out on its own. Get advice from your doctor if you aren't sure of the best way to remove earwax at home, and see your doctor if using drops is not successful.
- The body has a way of getting rid of excess cerumen.
- If allowed to build up, however, cerumen can cause irritation and itching in the ear canal.
If your allergy is not yet diagnosed, see your doctor for a treatment plan. Avoiding allergens, when possible, is the best way to prevent the related symptoms. For diagnosed allergies, your doctor can outline a treatment plan which may include antihistamine medications or, in some cases, allergy shots. Some allergies are life threatening, so seek immediate medical attention if you have swelling of the lips or tongue, difficulty breathing, dizziness or severe hives.
- If your allergy is not yet diagnosed, see your doctor for a treatment plan.
- For diagnosed allergies, your doctor can outline a treatment plan which may include antihistamine medications or, in some cases, allergy shots.
Infections, Irritation or Skin Conditions
Ear Pain After Wax Removal
Earbuds or hearing aids may also cause irritation due to chafing or trapped water in the ear canal, and getting properly fitted for your hearing aids and taking breaks from wearing earbuds may correct this problem. Certain skin conditions, such as:
- can lead to dry
- itchy or flaky skin -- which may affect the ear canal 4
Depending on the skin condition, your doctor can outline a treatment strategy which may include drops for the ear canal, or steroid cream for outer ear.
Itching in the ear is rarely serious, and can often be treated at home. However, if the cause is not related to dryness or wax buildup, a doctor's assessment may be helpful so you understand the cause and an effective home treatment plan. For ongoing pain, itchiness, drainage or other ear discomfort, see your doctor.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD
- Itching in the ear is rarely serious, and can often be treated at home.
- However, if the cause is not related to dryness or wax buildup, a doctor's assessment may be helpful so you understand the cause and an effective home treatment plan.
What Causes Itchy Ears?
Ear Pain After Wax Removal
How to Use Debrox Earwax Removal
Ear Wax or Swimmer's Ear?
Itchiness Behind the Ears
Relief From Ear Congestion
How to Use an Ear Wax Cleaning Kit
Baking Soda & Water for Ear Wax
Ear Fungus Treatments
How to Treat a Swollen Eyelid
- The Hearing Journal: Symptom: Itchy Ear
- American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery: Earwax and Care
- Merck Manual: Overview of Allergies and Atopic Disorders
- Merck Manual: Dermatitis of the Ear Canal
- Mittal A, Kumar S. Role of pH of external auditory canal in acute otitis externa. Indian J Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2014;66(1):86-91. doi:10.1007/s12070-013-0684-0
- Schwartz SR, Magit AE, Rosenfeld RM, et al. Clinical practice guideline (update): Earwax (cerumen impaction). Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2017;156(1_suppl):S1-S29. doi:10.1177/0194599816671491
- Wright T. Ear wax. BMJ Clin Evid. 2015;2015:0504.
Sarah Harding has written stacks of research articles dating back to 2000. She has consulted in various settings and taught courses focused on psychology. Her work has been published by ParentDish, Atkins and other clients. Harding holds a Master of Science in psychology from Capella University and is completing several certificates through the Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association.