An itching ear canal can be caused by infection, irritation, problems with ear wax, and foreign bodies in the ear. Patients may also experience pain, impaired hearing, and other symptoms that can be helpful during a diagnostic evaluation to find out why the ear canal is itchy. Treatment options vary and can include medications, lubricants, and irrigation of the ear. There are steps people can take to avoid an itching ear canal by addressing common risk factors.
Infections of the ear canal involving fungi, viruses, or bacteria are common culprits. One well-known example is so-called “swimmer's ear,” caused by accumulations of water in the ear that cause chronic irritation and make the ear vulnerable to infection. People with ear infections may also notice pain and a foul smelling discharge in addition to the itching ear canal. Ear infections can be treated with medications to kill the causative organism and irrigation to clean out the ear, if it is deemed necessary.
Irritation of the ear canal can be associated with skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, as well as excessive sweating. The skin inside the ear canal is tender and very sensitive. If it starts to dry out or flake, it can become very itchy. Itching ear canal associated with ear wax issues can be the result of a wax buildup or an insufficient supply of ear wax. Low levels of wax can leave the ear exposed to dryness and irritation. Medications can soften wax for removal and lubricants can be used to treat dry skin inside the ear.
Foreign bodies in the ear, including debris and small insects, can also be behind an itching ear canal. In this case, the treatment is usually irrigation with warm water to flush the source of the itching out of the ear. The patient may experience some discomfort, depending on the size of the object, and in some cases, a doctor may have to use tools to extract the object, especially if it has become embedded in ear wax. It is important to hold still during this procedure to reduce the risk of damaging the ear canal in the process.
People like swimmers can use lubricants in their ears before swimming, as well as wearing ear plugs to keep the ear canal warm and dry. This will also reduce the risk of conditions associated with shock to the ears from cold water. After swimming, the ears can be gently towel dried on the outside and the head should be tilted to allow water to drain. People who have a history of ear infections may want to discuss additional swimming precautions with their doctors.