Pruritus of ear canal

Pruritus of ear canal

Description, Causes and Risk Factors:

Itching in the ears can be very disturbing at times which leads the patient to seek for doctor's advice. People who experience seasonal allergies are more prone to pruritus of ear canal. This occurs from histamine (amine formed from histidine that stimulates gastric secretions and dilates blood vessels; released by the human immune system during allergic reactions) release, an allergy related chemical that also causes the irritated, watery eyes commonly seen with allergies.

Fungi can occasionally infect the ear canals causing itching and irritation. This is more common in swimmers and in people who frequently expose their ears to water. Pruritus of ear canal may also develop when water, sand, dirt, or other debris gets into the ear canal.

A rare but serious infection called malignant otitis externa can develop if bacteria invade the bones inside the ear canal and spread to the base of the skull. Not many people get this infection. It is mainly seen in older adults who also have diabetes, people who have HIV, and children who have impaired immune systems.

Pruritus of ear canal can also be an allergic reaction to any of the following:

• Certain foods.

• Cosmetics, dyes or detergents.

• Hair sprays and shampoos.

• Industrial chemicals, such as those found in elastic, latex or rubber.

• Metals such as those used in jewelry.

• Poison ivy or oak.

• Stings or bites.

• Chickenpox.

• Ear infection.

• Ringworm.

• Strep throat.

• Extreme cold or heat.

• Medications.

• Stress.

Other Risk Factors:

• Allergies.

• Bony overgrowths in the ear canal called exostoses (A benign outgrowth from a bone usually covered with cartilage).

• Bubble baths, soaps, and shampoos.

• Cleaning the ear canal harshly or with a sharp object.

• Headphones inserted into the ear.

• Scratching the ear canal with a cotton swab, bobby pin, fingernail, or other sharp object.

• Skin problems, such as eczema, psoriasis, or seborrhea.

• Sweating.


Symptoms may include:

• Crusting or flaking skin.

• Drainage or discharge from the ear.

• Rash.

• Redness, warmth or swelling.

• Tenderness or pain.


Pruritus of ear canal is not usually serious, but it is important to determine the underlying cause in order to rule out a serious infection or allergic reaction. Detailed history taking and careful clinical examination are mandatory. Itching should not be taken lightly since it may be symptoms of serious illness.

Once the underlying cause of your itching is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications related to the persistence or spread of infection including:

• Cellulitis (An inflammation of body tissue (especially that below the skin) characterized by fever and swelling and redness and pain).

• Chronic otitis externa (persistent outer ear infection).

• Necrotizing otitis externa (potentially life-threatening outer ear infection).


Fundamental to the treatment of external otitis is protection of the ear from additional moisture and avoidance of further mechanical injury by scratching.

General principles are to avoid aggressive cleaning and keep the ear dry. A few drops of a vegetable oil such as olive oil every day or two may help keep the ear from getting too dry and also protect it from water.

Pruritus of the external auditory canal, particularly at the meatus, is a common problem. While it may be associated with external otitis or with dermatologic conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis (A chronic skin disease associated with seborrhea and greasy scales on the scalp or eyelids or other parts of the skin) and psoriasis, most cases are self-induced either from excoriation or by overly zealous ear cleaning. To permit regeneration of the protective cerumen blanket, patients should be instructed to avoid use of soap and water or cotton swabs in the ear canal and avoid any scratching. Patients with excessively dry canal skin may benefit from application of mineral oil, which helps counteract dryness and repel moisture. When an inflammatory component is present, topical application of a corticosteroid may be beneficial. Symptomatic reduction of pruritus may also be obtained by use of oral antihistamines, topical application of isopropyl alcohol promptly relieves ear canal pruritus in many patients.

NOTE: The above information is educational purpose. The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition.

DISCLAIMER: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care.


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