Ear eczema is a condition that causes dry, itchy, inflamed and/or red skin. Eczema in the ears is a type of atopic dermatitis and there are three main variants that can lead you to experience its symptoms: allergic contact dermatitis, asteatotic eczema and seborrhoeic dermatitis.
Ear eczema (and eyelid eczema) can be effectively treated with emollients and topical steroids. Emollients are used for mild cases, while topical steroids are prescription medications that are issued by a doctor or pharmacist for more severe outbreaks of eczema in the ears.
We explain clearly and comprehensively what ear eczema is, what causes it and what treatments can be used to treat each of the three types of eczema you can get in or around your ears.
What’s ear eczema?
Ear eczema is a skin condition that creates dryness, inflammation, redness and itchiness on your outer ear (ear lobes) and/or inside it (your ear canal or ear hole). It’s very treatable and there are a number of different types of eczema that your ears can be affected by, such as:
- Allergic contact dermatitis
- Asteatotic eczema
- Seborrhoeic dermatitis
Each of these types of eczema (atopic dermatitis) has its own set of triggers. We explain the causes of allergic contact dermatitis, asteatotic eczema and seborrhoeic dermatitis in the following section.
What causes eczema in the ears?
There are three types of atopic dermatitis you can get in your ears: allergic contact, asteatotic eczema and seborrhoeic dermatitis. These three types of eczema in the ears each have their own causes.
Below, we’ve listed some of the common causes of the different types of ear eczema and provided some more detail on each of them:
Allergic contact dermatitis
Allergic contact dermatitis (allergic eczema) is caused by allergic reactions to materials. If you suffer from this type of eczema, your inner or outer ears may become itchy, inflamed, red or dry if they come into contact with any of the following allergens:
- Mobile phones
Asteatotic eczema is triggered by dry skin. These are the main causes of this condition:
- Some medications: diuretics (water tablets) and statins (lipid-lowering medications).
- Environmental issues: dry atmospheres and cold weather.
- Nutrient deficiencies: diet imbalances, gastrointestinal issues and malabsorption.
- Underlying conditions: hypothyroidism, lymphoma and nephrotic syndrome.
There’s no definitive clinical and scientific opinion on what causes seborrhoeic dermatitis. However, it’s believed there are a number of things that cause you to suffer from this type of ear eczema, including:
- Normally harmless yeast that lives on your skin
- Immune system responses
- Cold weather
- Dry weather
What does eczema in the ears look like?
Atopic eczema (atopic dermatitis) is the most common type of eczema and it has very visible symptoms — itchy, dry and cracked skin. While eczema in the ears isn’t the same as topic eczema, the condition looks very similar to the most common types of eczema because it causes red, scaly, crusty and dry skin in or around your ear.
Ear eczema can appear as patches on your skin. These patches can be leathery or rough and can ooze. This can cause your ears to be sensitive, inflamed and painful. You may also have areas of irritated skin.
The visible symptoms of this eczema can look slightly different, depending on whether it manifests in or outside of your ear. These are the symptoms you can expect to see in (around and behind) and outside of your ear:
Signs of eczema inside ears
- Thin discharge from your ear canal
- Flaky skin inside your ear
- Inflammation of your skin
- Hearing issues
Signs of eczema around ears
- Dry and flaky skin
- Itchy and red skin
- Cracked skin
- Scaly skin
Signs of eczema behind ears
- Dry skin behind ears
- Itchy and red skin
- Cracked skin
- Scaly skin
- Flaky skin
How to get rid of eczema in the ears
Topical steroids are anti-irritant and anti-inflammatory medications that treat dermatitis, rashes and eczema. You apply these treatments directly to your skin and they come as ointments or creams.
Topical steroids require a prescription. These are the medications you can use to treat your ear eczema: The approach you take to get rid of ear eczema depends on what’s causing it and where it’s located. This is why it’s important to speak to a doctor or pharmacist about the eczema in your ears, as they’re able to advise what the right course of treatment is for your condition.
Once your doctor or pharmacist has reviewed your condition and established whether you have allergic contact dermatitis, asteatotic eczema or seborrhoeic dermatitis, you can get rid of your ear eczema by using either emollients or topical steroids.
The following sections explain what emollients and topical steroids are and highlight which types of eczema in ears they can treat:
Emollients are clinical skin moisturisers that freshen, hydrate, soften and protect your skin. These moisturisers are applied directly to your skin and are available as creams, lotions or ointments.
Many emollients can be purchased over the counter but certain ones need a prescription. These are the emollients you can use to treat your ears and the eczema they tackle:
Emollient cream for eczema in ears
These creams can treat allergic contact dermatitis and asteatotic eczema.
Emollient ointment for eczema in ears
These ointments can treat allergic contact dermatitis and asteatotic eczema.
Topical steroid creams for eczema around ears
- Hydrocortisone Cream
- Fucidin H Cream (if the skin is also infected)
- Betnovate Cream
- Betnovate Scalp Application (can be easier to use than cream in the ear canal)
These creams can treat seborrhoeic dermatitis.
Topical steroid ointments for eczema around ears
This ointment can treat seborrhoeic dermatitis.
Are natural treatment options effective for eczema in the ears?
Home remedies are a popular choice of treatment for people with eczema in the ears. These remedies include things such as apple cider vinegar, aloe vera gel and coconut oil.
The question, though, isn’t what home remedies are but if they’re clinically effective. The answer to this is that these treatments may help your condition but they haven't been verified as being clinically effective in treating ear eczema.
Certain home remedies can include antimicrobial properties, which help fight infection. But that’s not to say the home remedies that contain these properties are proven to fight against eczema and tackle its symptoms, such as irritable skin and aching pain.
Emollients and topical steroids are clinically tested and proven courses of treatment for eczema. It may be that you use a clinically tested and proven treatment and it doesn’t have the desired effect on your eczema. This can happen because treatments have different levels of effectiveness depending on the person using them and their specific condition.
The thing to remember with clinically tested and proven treatments is that the evidence is there to demonstrate that they are consistently effective in tackling ear eczema. The same can’t be said for home remedies.
Complete an online consultation to get prescription ear eczema treatment
Over-the-counter treatments are proven to be effective in reducing the symptoms of ear eczema. If you have a more severe case of eczema (such as seborrhoeic dermatitis) then you may need a prescription topical steroid to tackle your condition.
You can order prescription treatments online from The Independent Pharmacy after completing an online consultation. You can also talk to one of our medically qualified experts if you’d like some guidance on which treatment is right for your condition.