Complete Ear Eczema Guide: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments & More

Ear eczema is a condition that affects the skin on or around the ear and may affect over 600,000 people ear year. Even with all of these dermatitis diagnoses, the condition is not really talked about. 

Did you know: More than 31 MILLION Americans have some form of eczema? (NEA)

The lack of information on symptoms, causes, and treatment options is frustrating! If this sounds like your situation, then this is the article you have been looking for. I know the answer you came to get about ear eczema is here. 

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What is ear eczema?

Ear eczema is the term for swelling of the skin on the ear. According to MedlinePlus, eczema is also known as dermatitis, which is inflammation of the skin. 

What does ear eczema look like?

ear eczema with redness and swelling on the bottom lobe and up the outside of the ear.
Ear eczema with redness and swelling

Ear eczema can look like dry, itchy skin that is flaky or rash-like. Ear dermatitis can present different symptoms based on the underlying cause of the inflammation. 

Ear Eczema vs Psoriasis

Ear eczema versus psoriasis infographic. Ear eczema and psoriasis give very similar symptoms, but here are the key differences between the two. Ear eczema: can be present during childhood, not linked to other illnesses, may "grow out" of eczema. Psoriasis: Typically not seen until adulthood, can be linked to other diseases (heart disease, type-2 diabetes, anxiety/depression), usually diagnosed in your 20s-30s.

Both of these conditions give similar symptoms which can make it challenging to know which condition you may be experiencing.

 Psoriasis.org explains that psoriasis is a chronic immune system disease that can lead to other conditions like heart disease, type-2 diabetes, anxiety, and depression. Such links are not associated with eczema or dermatitis. 

Additionally, psoriasis is not usually seen until the ages of 20 to 30 years old, and not typically during childhood. Eczema including ear eczema can be present during childhood and carry into adulthood, or the child may “grow out” of eczema altogether. 

How common is ear eczema? 

ear eczema fact infographic of a child holding their ears. Fact: Up to 621,000 people suffer from ear eczema in the United States

Fairly common. Potentially 621,000 people are affected by ear eczema in the United States. According to the NEA, eczema as a whole affects over 31 million people in the U.S. The most popular places to get eczema are the joint areas (wrists, knees, elbow), face, neck, and legs. 

Assuming the most popular regions where eczema develops on the body take up 90% of the cases, that leaves 10% for less common areas like the ears, back, chest, feet, and so on. To play it safe, we can give 2% towards ear eczema (I assume it’s higher), which leaves us with potentially 621,000 people affected by ear eczema. 

Is eczema in the ears serious? 

Not typically, but it can lead to more serious conditions. In extreme cases, ear eczema can lead to inflammation and swelling that may affect hearing. Additionally, the potentially dry and cracked skin from eczema may increase your chances of a skin infection. 

Who does ear eczema affect?

Ear eczema risk factors infographic with a woman grabbing her ear in the background. According to the Cleveland Clinic, you are at an increased risk for ear eczema if: Female
African American
Have hay fever or asthma
Family history
Dermatitis
Hay fever
Asthma

Ear eczema can affect anyone. According to the Cleveland Clinic, you have an increased risk of developing ear eczema if you meet one or more of the following factors. 

Risk Factors

  • Female
  • African American 
  • Suffer from hay fever and/or asthma
  • Family history
    • Dermatitis
    • Hay fever
    • Asthma 

Symptoms of Ear Eczema

Symptoms of ear eczema infographic. Background image of an elderly man holding his ears. According to the NIH, these are the most common symptoms of ear eczema or ear dermatitis. Itchy skin (mild to severe), Redness, Dry patches, Rash (may weep or bleed), Thickening of the skin , Hardening of the skin. Design by allergypreventions

The most common symptom of ear eczema is itchy skin around the ears, which can range from mild to severe. According to the NIH,  additional symptoms may include the following: 

Signs and Symptoms

  • Itchy skin (mild to severe) 
  • Redness
  • Dry patches
  • Rash (may weep or bleed) 
  • Thickening of the skin 
  • Hardening of the skin 

Types of Ear Eczema

seven types of ear eczema infographic. According to the NEA, these are the different types of ear eczema you may experience.  Atopic dermatitis Asteatotic eczema, Contact dermatitis, Dyshidrotic eczema, Nummular eczema, Seborrheic dermatitis, Stasis dermatitis
visual by allergypreventions

Ear eczema can be caused by many different inflammatory skin conditions. The National Eczema Association explains that there are 7 different types of ear eczema.

  • Atopic dermatitis
    • Eczema from genetics 
  • Asteatotic eczema
    • Dry skin from moisture loss
  • Contact dermatitis
    • Inflammation from touching something
  • Dyshidrotic eczema
    • Small blisters appear 
  • Nummular eczema
    • Round patches that look like coins 
  • Seborrheic dermatitis
    • Sebaceous gland inflammation
  • Stasis dermatitis 
    • Poor fluid circulation 

Causes

There are many reasons that you may be suffering from ear eczema.  Here are the more common causes of flare-ups that have been provided by the NEA. 

Potential Ear Eczema Triggers 

  • Exposure to dry air (low humidity) 
  • Extremely hot or cold environments
  • Soap/Body wash
  • Shampoo
  • Bubble bath
  • Face wash
  • Laundry detergent
  • Fabric softener
  • Wool and polyester
  • Cleaners / disinfectants 
  • Natural liquids on the skin (fruits, vegetables, and meats)
  • Candle fragrance 
  • Metals (usually nickel) 
  • Formaldehyde (additive in some disinfectants, vaccines, glues, etc.) 
  • Isothiazolinone (make-up removers, baby wipes) 
  • Cocamidopropyl betaine (soap, lotion, shampoo, thickener)
  • Paraphenylene-diamine (leather dyes and temporary tattoos) 

As you can see, there are so many triggers, and this isn’t all of them. Additionally, the cause may be from your genetics, or idiopathic (unknown reason). I recommend that you take note of when your notice an eczema flare-up and try to figure out what is causing your symptoms. 

Treatments

Home Remedies 

Home remedies are usually the first and best place to start for any ailment including ear eczema. These options incorporate items you may have in your home already or are available over-the-counter. 

Bath or Shower 

Taking a bath or shower in lukewarm water (not hot) can help replenish some of the moisture in your skin. Ensure you follow these tips to help calm your skin during and after a shower. 

  • Avoid hot showers
  • Limit bath time to 10 minutes
  • Pat dry your skin with a towel
  • Immediately apply an unscented moisturizer

Use Moisturizers

When you are suffering from an eczema flare-up, the skin is usually dry and mad. Calming the skin and getting it the moisture it needs is crucial for ear eczema treatment. During my moisturizer research, I learned really quickly that there is no one size fits all. Here is a quick rundown of moisturizers. 

Lotion

Mostly water-based and doesn’t last very long when moisturizing skin. Good for maintaining moisture in your skin but not the best for repairing or calming it. 

Ointment 

An ointment is typically made of oil-based ingredients. The main ingredients you will find are petroleum jelly and sometimes mineral oil. Both of these oils are a beast at protecting and sealing in moisture. Ointments are thick and goopy. This might be what you are looking for if you have an ear eczema flare-up. 

Moisturizing Cream 

Creams are the middle man between ointments and lotions. They have a bit of oil like an ointment and a bit of water like a lotion. Moisturizing creams are great for locking in moisture without the heavy and greasiness of an ointment. 

Antihistamines

Eczema is usually related to allergies, so using an antihistamine may help relieve some of the itchy and swollen ears. There are many over-the-counter antihistamines these days, so ensure you do your research and have a conversation with your doctor. 

Pain Reliever 

Ear eczema can cause damaged, dry, cracked skin which can be painful. Your medical provider may instruct you to take a pain reliever or NSAID to reduce pain and inflammation. 

Hydrocortisone 

Hydrocortisone is a topical steroid that soothes the skin and stops itching. Those of us who are not new to eczema, seem to always have hydrocortisone on hand. You can pick some up on Amazon.com.

Additional Treatment Options

The fact is there is no cure for eczema (NEA). The medical community is consistently working on finding solutions to treat eczema, so your options should expand in the years to come. For now, here are the typical treatments that you can talk about with your doctor for implementation. 

Prescription Medications

Sometimes the use of over-the-counter medications or home remedies just doesn’t cut it, your doctor may want to prescribe a medication to get you some relief. Here are the types of prescriptions your Provider may wish to discuss with you. 

  • Topical Creams 
  • Injections to calm the immune system 
  • Oral medications 
  • UV Light Treatment
  • Aural Toilet 

Natural treatments

Natural treatments haven’t been well documented for their efficacy but there are many sufferers who swear by these homeopathic approaches. If you are looking to venture into these treatment options, please choose high-quality ingredients and discuss them with your doctor first. 

Natural Moisturizers 

A big problem with eczema is keeping the skin happy and moist, so you may want to try using a natural moisturizer. The top natural moisturizers that eczema sufferers use are coconut oil and sunflower oil. Of course, if you have a coconut allergy or sunflower allergy, avoid the oils! 

Vitamins 

Ensuring your body has the proper nutrients to produce healthy skin (and immune system) may help relieve some symptoms. You can look for foods that are rich in these specific vitamins, or find the most natural supplement at your favorite health food store. Here are the supplements studied in the National Library of Medicine Medical Journal.

Probiotics 
  • Healthy bacteria
  • Boosts immunity 
  • Found in certain foods, or in supplement form 
Prebiotics
  • Healthy gut bacteria food
  • Boosts overall health 
  • Found in certain foods, or in supplement form 
Vitamin D 

Vitamin D may play a role in helping chronic inflammation (like eczema), but there simply have not been enough studies to prove or disprove it at this time. 

Fish Oil 

Fish oil may help with treating eczema, but is not “routinely recommended”. in this journey study, they did note that fish oil “Significantly improved the effects on daily living as compared to placebo”. 

Evening Primrose and Borage Seed Oils 

Both of these oils came up in 27 studies to find out if they are a good option to treat eczema. The results from the majority of the studies showed some improvement but are not studied enough to be considered an eczema treatment. 

The overall results of vitamins as a treatment are not great. This is due to the fact that there just have not been enough quality studies conducted. This does not mean that none of these vitamins will give you relief, just something to consider. Please keep in mind that I am basing this on limited scientific studies. Real users may have experienced better outcomes. 

Diagnosis and tests

How is ear eczema diagnosed?

A medical professional will be the one to officially diagnose you with eczema of the ear. Your medical provider will diagnose based on the clinical findings (what it looks like), and by asking you some standard questions. The questions your doctor may ask are: 

  • How long has this been going on?
  • Any history of asthma, allergies, or hay fever?
  • Does anyone in your family have eczema? 
  • What are your symptoms?
  • What makes your symptoms better or worse?

Be prepared to answer the above questions, and write down any questions you m9ay have for your doctor. 

What tests will be done to diagnose ear eczema?

Your doctor may (or may not) conduct any tests to diagnose ear eczema. If your doctor does believe tests should be accomplished to rule out other conditions, they may conduct an allergy skin test, blood test, or skin biopsy. Usually, your doctor can diagnose during the exam and health history appointment. 

Is there a cure?

There is no cure for ear eczema. Eczema or dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin, caused by some other condition (immune system disorders, allergies, environmental exposures, etc.) Finding the root cause of eczema will help you better understand your condition. 

Ear Eczema Prognosis

Although ear eczema may be a chronic condition, as long as you are aware of your triggers, know what makes your symptoms manageable, and avoid infections, the outlook of ear dermatitis is good.

Complications

There are some complications with ear eczema that you should be aware of. Complications can be weeping and infection. If you do suspect these complications, please go see your doctor. 

Weeping

When symptoms start to get severe you may notice weeping. Weeping is when there is a fluid discharge coming out of the area where you are experiencing eczema. This is your body letting you know that something is up and needs to be evaluated by a medical professional. Untreated weeping or bleeding could lead to infection. 

Infection

Signs of infected ear eczema infographic. Eczema is inflammation of the skin. When this skin becomes dry, cracked, or even blistering, you are more prone to infection. Weeping or puss , Crusting skin, Blister-like sores, Excessive swelling, Skin is hot to the touch, Symptoms get worse vs better, Develop a fever. visual created by allergypreventions

Infected eczema happens when you develop a skin infection from dermatitis. Below are some of the more common signs and symptoms that your inflamed ear may be infected. 

Signs of infection

  • Weeping or puss 
  • Crusting skin
  • Blister-like sores
  • Excessive swelling
  • Skin is hot to the touch
  • Symptoms get worse vs better
  • Develop a fever 

Infections are something that needs to be treated, seek medical assistance right away. Keep in mind this is not an all-inclusive list and you may experience different symptoms. When in doubt, see a medical professional. 

Prevention

Preventing symptoms or flare-ups is a great approach when managing ear eczema. The first step in preventing eczema is to know your triggers and avoid those triggers if possible. If not, there are still some things you can do to hopefully make life a bit easier. 

Switch Household Products

At our home, we use the EWG to research all of our products. The EWG is a website (they have an app too) that tells you how good or bad for you your household products are. We ended up switching all of our soaps, body washes, and laundry detergent for something healthier. The EWG made it so easy to research. 

Use the EWG and look up your specific products. How do they rate? 

EWG Items to Investigate

  • Shampoo
  • Body wash
  • Handsoap
  • Laundry detergent 
  • Face wash
  • Cosmedics 
  • Lotion
  • Sunscreen
  • Household cleaners

Apply moisturizer 

Unfortunately with ear dermatitis, you are going to have a daily battle with your skin. Your goal will be to keep that skin healthy, moisturized, and not mad.

FAQ

Can I put steroid cream in my ear?

Yes. Technically the ear canal is “external use” but consult a doctor first. 

Does coconut oil cure ear eczema?

No, there is no cure for eczema. But, coconut oil may help relieve itchy skin caused by eczema. 

Is aloe vera good for ear eczema? 

Yes. Aloe vera is good for calming skin affected by eczema.  

How do I get rid of eczema in my ears?

Knowing the cause of eczema will be needed to get rid of eczema in your ears. For example, if you discover that your shampoo is causing eczema, switching shampoos should get rid of your dermatitis. 

Can I put cortisone 10 in my ears?

Yes. Cortisone (Cortizone 10) states for external use only.  Technically the ear canal is “external use” but I recommend you consult a doctor first. 

Can you get eczema in your ear canal? 

Yes. Eczema can affect any area of skin on your body, including your ear canal. 

Why is my eczema oozing or weeping liquid? 

Potentially from an infection. If your eczema is oozing or weeping, you may have an infection and should seek medical attention. 

Is ear eczema contagious?

No. Ear eczema is not contagious. 

Will petroleum jelly help ear eczema?

Yes. Petroleum jelly can help relieve ear eczema symptoms, and create a moisture barrier for the skin. 

Can ear eczema be cured?

No. There is no cure for ear eczema, but the symptoms can resolve. 

How does ear eczema affect my body?

Ear eczema can affect your body in a number of ways including itchiness,  dryness,  irritation, and hardening of the skin. 

Final Thoughts 

That is ear eczema in a (really big) nutshell. Was there something I missed or that you would like to see more information on? I am “all ears”, send me an email and I will get researching! 

I think you also may be interested in this article as well. It is for hand eczema, but there are some good eczema nuggets that you may find useful.

9 Leading Hand Eczema Triggers

Have you found something that works for you? Share it with me and I can add it to this article! admin@allergypreventions.com

By Chris

Chris is the creator of Allergy Preventions. As an allergy sufferer himself, his vision is to help others find relief from allergies. By combining his 14 years of Public Health experience, personal experience, and his thirst for knowledge, he is dedicated to providing quality recommendations to assist families with allergy symptom relief.