Ear eczema is a form of dermatitis that affects the ears. A typical presentation of ear eczema is a red, itchy rash that occurs inside the ear canal or on the outer side of your ear.
In some cases, this condition develops without any apparent triggers. Dermatologists refer to this type of ear eczema as aural eczematoid dermatitis (AED). Note that individuals with a history of psoriasis or seborrheic dermatitis are at a higher risk of developing AED.
You can also develop ear eczema if you get in contact with certain irritants. We call this contact dermatitis. Examples of these irritants include hair dyes, soaps, and metal jewelry.
Ear eczema is more common in babies and children. However, it typically affects other areas of the body – not just the ears.
Regardless of the type of eczema, it is not contagious.
In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about ear eczema, including its causes, symptoms, and treatments.
What causes ear eczema?
We already touched on some common causes of ear eczema above. Depending on the type you have, the causes and risk factors can vary.
Generally speaking, we can summarize the causes of ear eczema into three types:
1. Contact dermatitis
Allergic eczema arises when you get in contact with certain irritants. We referred to this condition as contact dermatitis above.
Some of the irritants that cause allergic eczema include:
- Hair products
- Other personal care products
2. Seborrheic dermatitis
If you’ve read our previous articles, you are probably familiar with seborrheic dermatitis. It generally occurs in oily areas of the body, such as the scalp and upper trunk. However, the ears are also affected by seborrheic dermatitis.
So far, we do not have a full understanding of what causes seborrheic dermatitis. With that said, most researchers agree that it results from a subclinical fungal infection that invades oily areas of the skin.
3. Asteatotic eczema
This form of eczema is more prevalent in older people. It often occurs when your skin gets exposed to drastic changes in the weather.
Some factors that worsen asteatotic eczema are indoor heating, windy conditions, and over-washing.
What are the symptoms of ear eczema?
Like all other forms of eczema, the signs and symptoms of ear dermatitis vary from one person to another.
Expect to see the following clinical presentation:
- Extremely dry skin
- Red rash
- Scaly patches
- Cracked skin
Furthermore, some patients develop ear discharges.
The most acknowledged worsening factor of ear eczema is dry weather. For this reason, patients may complain of flareups during the winter season, as indoor heating dries up the air more than usual.
The symptoms listed above are usually visible since they affect the outer ear. However, ear eczema can also occur in the aural canal, which connects between the eardrum and the ear’s opening.
Your doctor may use an otoscope to visualize the aural canal.
How do we diagnose ear eczema?
The diagnosis of ear eczema is generally a straightforward process. Your doctor will start by examining your ear. This includes a general inspection of your ear’s anatomy to look for any abnormalities.
The next step involves using an otoscope to see what’s going on inside your ear canal. This device comes with a source of light and a zooming lens to provide a clear image of the ear canal.
If you have a medical history of eczema, with a clear presentation of this condition, your doctor will usually make the diagnosis right away.
In some cases, a skin biopsy is required to unveil the etiology of your eczema. The procedure involves taking a small sample of your skin cells to inspect under the microscope. This exam will confirm the diagnosis of eczema or find evidence of other skin disorders (e.g., psoriasis).
Treatments of ear eczema
The treatment of ear eczema depends on the underlying cause and where it’s occurring.
For instance, contact dermatitis requires the elimination of the exacerbating factor. If a makeup product is triggering flare-ups, you need to find an alternative that is suitable for your skin. If wearing earrings is what’s irritating your skin, it is time to remove them.
You can also ask your doctor about allergy testing to identify the exact triggers of your ear eczema.
For seborrheic dermatitis, the treatment focuses on getting rid of the fungus (e.g., Malassezia furfur). Therefore, applying an antifungal ointment can be quite effective. Topical steroids are also beneficial for seborrheic dermatitis.
If the symptoms are occurring in your external ear canal, steroid ear drops are typically the go-to therapeutic modality.
Note that keeping your ears moisturized is very helpful, regardless of what’s causing your eczema.
Make sure to shop for gentle cosmetic products to keep your ears eczema-free. For this purpose, only purchase the products that have the seal of acceptance by the National Eczema Association. To get this seal, the products undergo various testing processes to ensure they do not contain any skin irritants.
In your journey to treat ear eczema, you are bound to come across different products that make unreasonable promises. Remember that eczema is a chronic condition with no definitive cure (so far). Therefore, make sure to take these promises with a grain of salt.
Consulting your primary care physician or dermatologist remains the best way to effectively address ear eczema. It will also save you from buying shady products with questionable efficacy.
Ear eczema is a form of dermatitis that mainly affects the ear area. Depending on the exact type of eczema you have, the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments can be different.
We hope that this article managed to highlight the key aspects of ear eczema and debunked some of the myths surrounding it.
If you want to read more about eczema here.
Written by Zac Hyde