Ear eczema is a skin condition that causes irritation and inflammation inside or outside of the ears. The term eczema is actually a general term used to refer to a number of skin conditions that can cause redness, swelling, and bleeding skin lesions to develop. Understanding the possible causes, symptoms, and treatment options for ear eczema is likely necessary to obtain relief.
Several types of eczema can produce rashes or skin lesions within the external ear canal, ear drum, or behind and around the ears. One of the most common types of eczema is allergic atopic dermatitis, an allergic skin response that tends to run in families and often shows up in those who suffer from other allergy-based responses, such as asthma. The allergic response or skin sensitivity is triggered by an abnormal response of the immune system to a food or other environmental substance that is viewed as foreign. In the ears, the condition can show up on the back folds of the ear.
Seborrhoeic dermatitis is another common form of eczema that can cause cradle cap in infants; in adults the rash may appear in the head and appears similar to dandruff. In the ears, the condition often appears in the external auditory canal. A further common variation of eczema is allergic contact dermatitis, a skin rash triggered by direct skin contact with a substance to which an individual is allergic. When the condition appears on the ears, it could be related to wearing earrings containing nickel, gold, or some other irritant. A helix piercing, one done on the upper ear, also has the possibility of triggering the condition.
The symptoms associated with ear eczema tend to vary among individuals. For some the skin lesions results in mild dryness and redness. Others, however, can develop a more serious skin condition presenting with skin loss, extreme dryness, and soreness. The skin of the ear may also become darker, crack, and peel. In some cases, these breaks within the skin allow bacteria or fungi to invade and turn the irritating itch into an ear infection characterized by swelling, crusting, and fluid discharge.
Proper treatment of ear eczema will differ depending on how far the condition has progressed. If an ear infection is present, antibiotics or antifungal or steroid ear drops could be prescribed to help clear up the infection. Oral antibiotics may also be given to hasten recovery and stop the itching. The pain might also be managed by over-the-counter or prescription pain medications.
For regular treatment of this condition, and to prevent infections from developing, sufferers are usually advised to avoid scratching the ears. In most cases, constant scratching can actually further irritate and inflame the skin. With eczema, keeping the ear as dry as possible is also usually recommended as a precaution against infections. Eczema ear suffers can also use ear plugs when bathing or tightly fitted waterproof swimming caps when swimming so water does not enter the ear canal. Anti-itch ear creams, drops, or oral medications that contain antihistamines or steroids may be available over the counter and might be effective at treating and clearing up mild ear rashes.
Eczema that occurs in the ears can often be confused with other skin conditions, such as psoriasis. For an accurate diagnosis of ear eczema, visiting a dermatologist, primary care provider, or allergist may be necessary. A medical professional can perform allergy tests to help determine irritants or triggers of the condition and develop a corresponding treatment plan.