Reviewed by Dr Jessica Gunawan and Physician Brandon Yew
Hear, Hear! 5 Causes of Itchy Ears and How to Find Relief
Published | 7 min read
Did you know that an infection is not the only reason for itchy ears? Read on to find out other causes and ways to address the irritation.
The inside of your ear is rich with nerve endings. That’s why it’s susceptible to even the slightest tickle. When you have itchy ears, the sensation can be bothersome and uncomfortable. But, if you want to stop the itch immediately, sticking a cotton bud in
5 Causes and Suggested Treatments for Itchy Ears
The ears are part of an intricate structure connecting the nasal and throat passages. Finding the root cause of your
Swimmer’s ear is a common ear infection with itchiness as one of the symptoms. It occurs when water stays in the ear canal and creates a moist environment, encouraging bacterial growth.
Another common outer ear infection is otomycosis, a fungal infection. An itchy ear is a major symptom, but you may also experience pain, a feeling of fullness, and even tinnitus or partial hearing loss.
Meanwhile, the same viruses that cause the common
Prevention is also key. If you often go swimming, use earplugs to prevent water from getting into your ear. Also, remember that wearing earbuds, hearing aids, or headphones can make you more prone to itchy ears and, subsequently, ear infections. Make sure to keep these devices clean before use.
2. Referred itch
Have you noticed that your ears sometimes get itchy when you have a cold or cough? If your doctor doesn’t diagnose you with a middle ear infection, the source of the itch may be an inflamed throat.
The referred itch (when you scratch an itchy area, but the sensation is felt in another part of your body) usually goes away when you recover from your primary illness. If the itchy ear persists, consult your doctor to rule out any neurological disorders.
3. Underlying skin conditions or allergies
You may have itchy ears if you have existing chronic skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis. The inflamed and itchy skin could appear on your earlobes or around your ear.
Sometimes, allergies like hay fever can also cause itchy ears. You may also be allergic to shampoo or other products that accidentally enter your ear canal. Food
A doctor will diagnose your skin condition and may prescribe creams, ointments, or allergy medications to help stop the itch.
4. Asteatosis due to perimenopause or menopause
Asteatosis is a type of eczema in the ear. It is characterised by a lack of cerumen (earwax), leading to dry and itchy ears. It’s a common symptom of perimenopause or menopause in women.
During menopause or perimenopause, oestrogen levels fall or fluctuate. Since oestrogen promotes water retention and plumpness, lower oestrogen levels can make your skin dry, including the lining of the ear cavity.
5. Improper cleaning
Sticking cotton buds, ear picks, or even your fingers into your ears to remove ear wax can do more harm than good. It can push the wax further into your ear and increase the risk of infection. It can even damage your ear canal or your ear drum.
Instead, gently wipe the outside of your ears with a clean towel. And because your ears are self-cleaning, it’s best to leave the ear canal alone.
Causes of Itchy Ears in TCM
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the ears are governed by the Kidneys. Meanwhile, the meridian channels of the Triple Warmer, gallbladder and small intestines also run near the ears. Real Medical Senior TCM Physician Brandon Yew explains that itchy ears can indicate imbalances with the Kidneys or any of these meridian channels.
These imbalances can be categorised into two main types: Exogenic – The infection of pathogens such as Wind, Cold, Fire, and Dampness, and Endogenic – The presence of Fire, Dampness, phlegm, Qi
TCM Remedies for Itchy Ears
TCM can ease itchy ears with the help of herbal remedies and acupuncture.
Physician Yew also recommends Tong Qi San (通气散), which dispels Stagnated Qi and blood clots to unblock the meridians surrounding the ear. Di Tan Tang (涤痰汤) also dispels endogenic Dampness, phlegm, and Stagnated Qi. All these herbal formulations unblock the meridians surrounding the ear and relieve itch.
Physician Yew cautions against self-prescribing these formulas. “Each herbal formula above targets different causes of itchy ears. They correspond to different
Localised acupoints that dispel pathogens and unblock meridians to relieve the ear itch are:
Yifeng (SJ17, 翳风)
- Chi mai (SJ18, 瘈脉)
- Jiao sun (SJ20, 角孙)
- Er men (SJ21, 耳门)
He liao (SJ22, 和髎)
- Yang lao, (SI6, 养老): Dispels pathogens along the Small Intestines meridian, and restores and enhances qi and blood circulation to the ears to relieve itch.
Ye men (SJ2, 液门): Dispels pathogens along the Triple Warmer meridian, and restores and enhancesqi and blood circulation to the ears to relieve itch.
- Tai xi (KI3, 太溪): Revitalises the kidneys to nourish the ears, relieving itch.
- Zu lin qi (GB41, 足临泣): Dispels pathogens along the Gallbladder meridian, and restores and enhances qi and blood circulation to the ears to relieve itch.
While more studies are needed, meta-analytical research in 2015 demonstrated, even if cautiously, the efficacy of acupuncture on pruritus (itching). Published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the researchers concluded that acupuncture is more effective in treating pruritus than placebo acupuncture or with no treatment.
Itchy ears may be uncomfortable, but try not to reach for that cotton bud. Address the possible causes, and soon, you’ll be on your way to itch-free ears.
- Cleveland Clinic. 2022. The Truth About Itchy Ears: You May Be Causing the Problem. [online] Available at: <https://health.clevelandclinic.org/the-truth-about-itchy-ears-you-may-be-causing-the-problem/> [Accessed 5 November 2022]
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- Cleveland Clinic. 2021. Here’s How Menopause Affects Your Skin and Hair. [online] Available at: <https://health.clevelandclinic.org/heres-how-menopause-affects-your-skin-and-hair/> [Accessed 5 November 2022]
- Journal of Mid-Life Health. 2015. A retrospective analysis of dermatoses in the perimenopausal population attending a tertiary care centre in South India. [online] Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4604670/> [Accessed 5 November 2022]
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- Harvard Health Publishing. 2020. 3 reasons to leave earwax alone. [online]. Available at: < https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/3-reasons-to-leave-earwax-alone-2017051711718> [Accessed 22 November 2022]
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