Eczema can appear anywhere on the body, including the outside of the ear or inside the ear canal. In ear eczema, the skin on the ear becomes red, dry, flaky, or itchy.

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Eczema is another term for dermatitis. Often people use the word eczema to refer to atopic dermatitis, which is one type of dermatitis.

There are different types of dermatitis, which means inflammation of the skin. Atopic dermatitis is more common in babies and children but can occur in adults.

Eczema can be embarrassing and make people self-conscious, but it is very common. About 15–30% of children and 2–10% of adults will get atopic dermatitis in their lifetime, and 60% of cases will develop in the first year of life. Other eczema types may be more or less prevalent.

People should speak with their doctor when they first notice ear eczema for proper diagnosis and treatment.

This article will discuss the possible causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of ear eczema.

Different types of dermatitis can affect the ears. Common types of ear eczema and their causes include:

  • Seborrheic dermatitis: A chronic form of eczema affecting areas with oil-producing (sebaceous) glands. The most likely cause is an immune reaction to a type of yeast on the skin.
  • Atopic dermatitis: Another chronic form of eczema that may be related to asthma and hay fever. The cause may be a dysfunctional skin barrier, and food sensitivities can also trigger symptoms.
  • Contact dermatitis: This is a skin reaction to various chemicals or metals. On the ears, it can commonly occur due to contact with earrings or cosmetics people use on the surrounding hair. It can also be a reaction to topical antibiotics.
  • Infectious eczematoid dermatitis (IED): This dermatitis occurs from discharge at an infected site, such as from within an infected ear.

In addition, in older people, eczema on the ear may be asteatotic eczema. The skin around the ear can become dry and flaky as a reaction to changes in temperature, humidity, over-washing, and other environmental factors.

Ear eczema causes symptoms similar to those of eczema on other parts of the body. People with ear eczema may experience:

  • dry, scaly skin around the ear
  • dry, scaly skin inside the ear canal
  • redness and swelling
  • itchiness in or around the ear canal

The symptoms of ear eczema can also affect the area behind the ear.

For most people, the symptoms of eczema will be mild to moderate. However, in some cases, the itching can become intense and lead to the following:

  • red, swollen, or dark skin
  • areas of very dry, sensitive skin
  • scaly patches that may be rough or leathery
  • oozing, bleeding, or crusting areas of inflamed skin
  • infected skin in the ear canal

Doctors can often diagnose ear eczema with a routine physical examination. They may also perform an allergy test known as a patch test.

Unlike a skin prick test (SPT), which checks for immediate allergic reactions, a patch test will look for allergic rashes that may take longer to appear.

Other causes of a rash on the ear

People may mistake ear eczema for other skin conditions with similar symptoms, including:

  • acne
  • psoriasis
  • fungal or bacterial infections
  • lichen simplex chronicus
  • viral illnesses

Other conditions may include:

  • discoid lupus
  • intertrigo
  • shingles

In most cases, a doctor can easily identify ear eczema and recommend suitable treatments.

Ear eczema can be a chronic condition, but treatments are available that can manage the condition well.

The treatment for ear eczema may include a combination of the following:

  • ear drops,
  • prescription or over-the-counter creams for the skin
  • systemic medications that reduce the immune system’s response to triggers

In addition, a doctor may recommend treatment with biologic medications or phototherapy in cases of severe eczema that affects many areas of the body.

Home remedies

The treatment for people with ear eczema can also involve using home remedies and making lifestyle changes. People should avoid scratching, as this can lead to very inflamed areas of skin that may bleed and worsen eczema symptoms.

Home remedies for ear eczema include the following:

  • washing the ears each night with warm, but not hot, water
  • using fragrance-free moisturizers on the ears immediately after bathing to lock in moisture
  • preventing any triggers, such as jewelry, from coming into contact with the ears
  • wearing a hat that covers the ears in cold weather as cold temperatures can trigger flares
  • avoiding irritants that have caused eczema flares in the past
  • using over-the-counter (OTC) anti-itch creams that contain hydrocortisone, which reduces itchiness and swelling
  • switching to gentle cleansers and products that are suitable for sensitive skin

How do I recognize ear eczema if I have darker skin?

According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, people of color are at a greater risk of atopic dermatitis. Those with a family history of the condition, or those with other immune disorders, are more likely to develop it.

The redness that is typical of ear eczema in lighter-skinned people may appear differently in darker skin tones. The color of the affected area may be dark brown, purple, or gray.

After eczema has healed, darker-skinned people may also experience areas of hypo or hyperpigmentation at a higher rate than lighter-skinned people.

How do I know if my ears have eczema, dry skin, or psoriasis?

Ear eczema and psoriasis are common, chronic inflammatory skin conditions. Abnormalities in the inflammatory response of the immune system are the cause of them. Dry skin is temporary and curable, whereas eczema and psoriasis are chronic conditions.

It may be difficult for a person to tell the difference between psoriasis and eczema. These conditions can both present on the elbows, knees, lower back, face, scalp, and ears as dry, red, scaling plaques.

A person should talk with their doctor as soon as they notice these symptoms for proper diagnosis and treatment.

What triggers eczema on the ears?

Ear eczema can flare up due to various triggers. Some things are considered internal triggers. These include stress, diet, and infections.

External or environmental factors include heat, dampness, dust mites, pet fur, pollen, and mold. Other triggers may include using bath and beauty products such as soaps, lotions, detergents, and jewelry

There are different types of ear eczema, including atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, and seborrheic dermatitis.

Ear eczema is not usually severe. However, the itchiness and dry skin can be frustrating, especially if it affects the ear.

With proper treatment, ear eczema generally clears up with no long-term effects. Most people with ear eczema can successfully manage their condition with the help of a doctor, home remedies, and lifestyle changes.

Finding an effective treatment for ear eczema may take some trial and error. People concerned they may have ear eczema should speak with their doctor to get an appropriate diagnosis and the best treatment for them.