Everything you need to know about dry ears
Dry ears can have many causes. It can be as simple as not being able to produce enough earwax or cleaning the ears too much. Dry ears can also be linked to skin allergies, and to other dry skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis. In most cases, it can easily be treated.
Some people may worry about the appearance of loose, dry flakiness of skin in and around the ear. However, it is the accompanying itch that can cause the worst discomfort.
This article looks at some of the different causes of dry ears, what can be done to treat them, and the steps a person can take to prevent dry ears.
Eczema, and similar skin conditions, may cause dry ear or ear itchiness.
Dry ears can be the result of dry skin conditions that also affect other parts of the body. These conditions include the following:
- Eczema: This can occur in the ear canal and can be extremely irritating. If it is in the ear, it is likely to affect the nose and scalp also.
- Psoriasis: This is an autoimmune disorder that causes skin cells to grow faster than they are shed. The result is dry, scaly patches and underlying redness, affecting the outer ear, scalp, and neck. Psoriasis can also make the skin itchy.
- Dermatitis: This is inflammation of the skin. Different forms of dermatitis can be the result of an allergic reaction to shampoos or skin-cleansing products. They can also occur without any known causes, such as in the form of dermatitis known as dandruff.
Ear irritation can cause ears to dry out. People who use hearing aids may develop dry ears due to the device irritating by rubbing against the delicate and sensitive skin in and around the ear.
The materials that hearing aids are made from can also cause an allergic reaction.
Dry ears are also commonly the result of over-cleaning. This removes the earwax and natural oils that are both important for maintaining good ear health.
A doctor may diagnose dry ear by inspecting the ear canal and the surrounding skin.
The goal of any treatment plan for dry ears is often to stop any itching first and then to re-establish a healthy moisture balance in the ear.
Choice of treatment usually depends on the underlying problem. Eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis in the ear are treated in the same way, as they would be in other parts of the body.
Over-the-counter steroid creams or ear drops combine an oily component with an anti-inflammatory steroid. Together, these relieve the itching and can help restore the moisture balance in cases of dry ears that are not infectious.
Steroid creams or drops should only be used as a temporary treatment, because long-term use can cause the skin to thin and to become fragile.
Depending on the underlying cause, a doctor may prescribe antifungal eardrops or oral antibiotics.
Gentle cleaning of the ears can be helpful if dry ears are the result of dry or windy weather conditions. The aim is to remove irritants, such as dust while keeping the ear's natural moisture balance.
In harsh climates, both hot and cold, petroleum jelly can help soothe and moisturize dry ears.
Preparations containing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or vinegar are not usually helpful for dry ears but may help relieve itchy ears.
It is best not to use cotton swabs for cleaning because they tend to over-clean the ear. Also, they can push waxy debris further down the ear canal, leaving it to cause irritation and infection.
A healthy ear is a self-cleaning organ and does not normally require manual or invasive cleaning.
Inserting objects into the ear, such as cotton buds, and over-cleaning, may exacerbate dry skin.
People can reduce the risk of dry ears by making some simple changes to their daily routines and lifestyles.
Heat is a common cause of dry ear, so it often helps to turn down the heating in winter and to avoid having very hot baths or showers. It also helps to keep your ears out of the sun.
A humidifier may benefit people who are prone to getting dry ears, especially if they live in drier climates or are regularly exposed to air-conditioning.
Mild soaps and skin cleansing products can avoid ear inflammation that could later lead to dry ears.
When to see a doctor
People should contact a doctor if dryness or itchiness persists despite home care and over-the-counter remedies.
It is important to seek proper medical advice if the dry patches do any of the following:
- form crusts
- start oozing blood, fluid, or pus
- become red
- start hurting
If dry ears are being caused or made worse by over-cleaning, people may want to consider having a doctor clean their ears for them. This is usually done by gently flushing the ear with warm, sterile water.
The outlook for dry ears depends very much on the underlying cause.
If dry ears are caused by dandruff, it is likely to be a life-long condition that comes and goes. Dandruff can easily be controlled with treatment, and looking after the skin can reduce the risk of dryness returning.
The most common cause of ear damage in cases of dry ears is the use of ear buds or other objects, such as paper clips and toothpicks. These are often used to scratch itchy ears or to apply soothing agents.
These objects can cut and scrape the ear canal and can damage the eardrum. Even a small break in the skin can allow bacteria to get through the ear's natural defenses and cause an infection.
While dry ears can be irritating and uncomfortable, they do not usually result in any long-term damage.