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Why do I have itchy ears? 9 reasons why

Itchy ear canals are uncomfortable. We’ll discuss the causes, how to diagnose, and what you can do to treat inner ear itch.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Ruth Reisman

Writtenm by

Dr. Ruth Reisman


May 10, 2024

Man touching the bottom of his ear. Man touching the bottom of his ear.

The 3 key takeaways

  • There are many reasons for an ear itch — Allergies, infections, skin conditions, and hearing aids may all be culprits.
  • Several treatments are available — However, for best results, you’ll want to pinpoint the cause before trying any solutions. 
  • Seek medical attention before trying home remedies — Some suggestions, like sticking objects in the ear, may worsen the condition.

Itchy ears are annoying, especially when you wear hearing aids. Uncovering the cause is the first step toward finding a solution to help ease your itchy ears (and maybe even stop the problem from recurring).

Like many health problems, there’s no black-and-white answer to the question, “Why do my ears itch?” First, you and your doctor will want to consider a few factors, for example:

  • Are you experiencing symptoms like dryness and redness?
  • Is the problem new, chronic, or worsening?
  • Where is the itch happening?
  • Do you have an itchy ear canal, or is there an issue with the outer ear?

Ear anatomy: What itches?

An ear has several parts. Understanding your ears’ anatomy can help you describe what part is itchy and determine the best treatment. There is an outer, middle, and inner part to the ear.

  • Outer ear. The outer ear includes the pinna (the part we see in a mirror), ear canal, and eardrum (tympanic membrane).
  • Middle ear. The middle ear has three tiny bones (ossicles) and the ear drum. It’s also where you’ll find your eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear and the back of your nose and equalizes the pressure you feel in the middle ear. Swelling and buildup in the eustachian tube can lead to muffled hearing.
  • Inner ear. The inner ear has the cochlea (a snail-shaped structure that contains the Labyrinth, an organ that helps you hear),  semicircular canals (aid in balance), and the vestibule (a tiny bone cavity).

Causes for the inside of the ear to itch

An itchy ear canal can feel particularly annoying. After all, you can’t give it a quick scratch like you would the skin on the outer ear. You also want to be very careful; trying to itch the inside of your inner ear can harm the ear drum. Skin conditions, allergies, illnesses, and even hearing aids can lead to the sensation of an itchy inner ear.

1. Allergies

Various allergic reactions to foods, materials, and even your environment can make you feel like you have an itchy inner ear. If it feels like your inner ear itches, you may be allergies to:

  • Materials or chemicals. Products we use in or around our ears may contain materials or chemicals that prompt itchy ears. For instance, some earrings and earbuds have nickel. Personal care products like hair spray may also trigger irritation when they come in contact with the ear.
  • Certain foods. Food allergies have several symptoms, including itchiness.
  • Pollen. Common symptoms of hay fever include watery eyes, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, and even itchy ears.

People who can point to allergies as the culprit of their itch will experience it when they are around the trigger. For instance, if someone is allergic to pollen, they will experience these symptoms during certain times of the year. Ear itchiness due to allergies should stop when the person is no longer using or around the trigger.

2. Infections

Another common cause of itchy ears is an otitis externa (outer ear infection) or otitis media (inner ear infection). Otitis media is the most common type of ear infection, especially in children.

Bacteria or viruses like colds and flu can lead to ear infections. And if you spend lots of time in a pool or the ocean, remaining water in your ear can help bacteria grow, causing a condition called swimmer’s ear. A buildup of earwax can lead to infections, too.

In addition to itchiness, trouble hearing is another sign of an ear infection. You may also experience pain and sleeping difficulties. While ear infections sometimes clear up on their own, a doctor may be able to prescribe antibiotics.

3. Ear wax buildup

Even if too much ear wax doesn’t result in an infection, it can make your ear itch. Wax serves a purpose — it’s responsible for cleaning dead skin cells and dirt, protecting your ear, and keeping your ear tidy. However, earwax buildup can trigger itchiness.

Avoid trying to remove earwax with a Q-tip or cotton swab. Doing so can have the opposite effect, pushing the wax deeper into the ear. Ear drops might help. Seek medical advice if it doesn’t — your doctor can remove ear wax for you with a special tool.

4. Dryness

Dry skin anywhere on the body can make you itch, and the ear is no exception. People with dry skin may notice peeling or cracking. These symptoms make the skin more sensitive, worsening irritation. Unfortunately, the natural inclination to scratch this itch worsens matters because it damages the skin even more.

5. Eczema

Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a skin condition that occurs when the skin becomes inflamed. People with eczema will notice a rash, redness, and itchiness. Eczema has several potential causes, including environmental triggers and genetics.

6. Psoriasis

Psoriasis is another skin condition. When the immune system becomes overactive, it can cause skin cells to multiply too quickly. Symptoms of psoriasis include red, itchy, scaly, and patchy skin. People usually experience psoriasis side effects on their scalp, elbows, and knees, but they can appear elsewhere, including the ear.

7. Dermatitis

Dermatitis is a general term for skin inflammation. Eczema is one form of dermatitis, and contact dermatitis, a skin rash that occurs when you come in contact with something, is another. A person may also have seborrheic dermatitis.

8. Fungal infections

Like bacteria, fungi can prompt ear infections. Fungi can also cause swimmer’s ear. Itchiness is a hallmark sign of a fungal ear infection. Other signs include a feeling of fullness within the ear and hearing difficulties.

9. Hearing aids

While hearing aids are vital tools, they can also cause itchiness. The plastic coating may trigger a mild allergic reaction, or your skin may be sensitive to it. The irritation should stop shortly after you remove the hearing aid.

Sometimes, water gets stuck behind the hearing aid, or the device causes too much pressure. In these cases, you may benefit from a professional remold, which will ensure the hearing aid probably fits your ear. If your hearing aid doesn’t seem to fit properly, it may be the culprit.

When to seek professional medical advice

Sometimes, itchy ears will clear up on their own. However, it’s best to seek medical help if you’re concerned — your doctor can help determine what’s causing your symptoms.

Some at-home remedies can cause more harm than good. Medical professionals like your primary care doctor can help you find the best treatment and check for other conditions. You should call the doctor if you experience an itchy ear in combination with the following symptoms:

  • Trouble hearing
  • Pain
  • Fever
  • Worsening condition
  • Symptoms last longer than a day without a known cause

A provider will perform a physical exam, including reviewing your full medical history. They can also run skin and lab tests to determine whether food or seasonal allergies are to blame or if the problem is caused by a skin condition, such as eczema.

Finally, they can offer evidence-based, safe treatments to help soothe your itchy ears.

Treatment options for itchy ears

Several options exist to temporarily relieve itchy ears. Again, seeking medical advice before trying any on your own is important.

Over-the-counter remedies

Some therapies are available over the counter. For instance, people with allergic rhinitis (seasonal allergies) may benefit from antihistamines, which can be picked up at most pharmacies. Topical treatments like creams for skin diseases and conditions can also provide some relief. Ear drops are also available over the counter.

Prescription treatments

Sometimes, prescription medications will be the best route. Doctors can prescribe antibiotics or drops to treat ear infections. A doctor can also work with you to prescribe a new hearing aid if an allergic reaction to a material used for the device is the culprit.

Home remedies

Home remedies may be available depending on the cause of  your itchy ear. A few baby oil or olive oil drops can help with dryness. Using a cloth on the outer part of the ear can remove debris and visible earwax. A food diary can help you pinpoint potential dietary triggers.

Prevention of itchy ears

When possible, prevention is the best remedy for itchy ears. People can reduce their risk of an itchy ear canal by practicing good hygiene and following these steps:

Washing the outer ear regularly — Use a warm cloth and gentle soap.

Dry the ear gently with a towel — Always dry your ears after water exposure, such as showering and swimming.

Refrain from using Q-tips — Never clean your ears with Q-tips or other items like bobby pins.

Take precautions when swimming — Wearing earplugs can lower the odds of developing a swimmer’s ear.

Care for your skin — If you have a skin disease or condition and have been prescribed medication, using it can prevent further side effects like itchy ears.

When in doubt, always call your doctor. They will help you find the source of your itchy ear canal or outer ear.

Frequently asked questions

How do I stop my inner ear from itching?

The best way to treat an itchy ear is cause-dependent. For instance, topical creams are available for people with dry skin or conditions like eczema. A remold may be in order if your ear itches because of a poorly fitting hearing aid. Antihistamines may also benefit people with allergies.

Why do my ears itch inside at night?

Your ears may itch at night for several reasons. Water may have gotten trapped in the ear from a shower, or your skin may be irritated from a personal care product, like shampoo.

Are itchy ears a symptom of any serious health conditions?

Itchy ears are not usually a sign of a serious health condition. However, not receiving treatment for some causes could have a ripple effect. Itchy ears can be caused by food or seasonal allergies, skin conditions like psoriasis, and hearing aids that don’t fit well. Ear infections can also trigger itchiness.

How is an itchy ear diagnosed and treated by a healthcare provider?

A healthcare provider will take your medical history, including any allergies or previously diagnosed hearing loss. If allergies are suspected, the doctor may perform skin tests or ask you to keep a food diary to determine possible triggers. A doctor may prescribe medications, remove earwax with a special tool, or suggest over-the-counter like ear drops or home remedies.

What preventive measures can be taken to avoid having an itchy ear?

Good hygiene, protection, and avoiding a few no-nos can help you prevent itchy ears.

– Washing the outer ear with warm water and gentle soap daily can help ward off debris.

– After water exposure, use a towel to dry the ear gently.

– Wearing earplugs when swimming can protect against swimmer’s ear.

– Be sure your hearing aid fits and is clean.

– Avoid sticking items like cotton swabs deep within the ear, as this can cause damage.

– Be sure to take or use any medications for allergies, skin conditions, and infections to prevent further side effects like an ear itch.