One in every ten people will develop eczema over the course of their life. First manifesting in childhood, it most often takes the form of a dry, itchy rash. The rash may be thick, cracked, and scaly; red flaking; or peppered with small, raised hives that leak a clear fluid when ruptured. 

Also known as Atopic Dermatitis, eczema is not typically life threatening, though vulnerable and immunocompromised individuals may be at risk of developing a skin infection. It can appear virtually anywhere on the body as well. This includes behind, on, or even inside the ears.

What Causes Ear Eczema?

Eczema, in general, is tied heavily to genetics. If you have a family history of dermatitis, asthma, or allergies, then you're much more likely to suffer from the condition. There's some evidence to suggest that this may be tied to either an issue that causes the body's immune system to overreact to minor irritants or a deficiency in one of the proteins tied to skin health. 

Root cause aside, there are also certain factors that increase the likelihood of an eczema breakout, including: 

  • Stress
  • Exposure to pollutants
  • Use of harsh soaps or shampoos
  • Exposure to allergens such as cat dander, goose down, wool, etc. 
  • Dry air
  • High humidity and heat

What Are the Symptoms of Ear Eczema?

The symptoms of ear eczema are nearly identical to the symptoms of eczema elsewhere on the body and include: 

  • Dry skin
  • Itching which tends to be more severe at night
  • A red, scaly, or leathery rash
  • Inflammation or irritation
  • Hives
  • Crusting
  • Weeping, pus-filled sores

If you happen to experience an eczema outbreak inside your ear canal, you may also experience hearing impairment, ear pain, or tinnitus.

What Are the Differences Between Ear Eczema and Psoriasis?

Eczema shares a great deal in common with another, similar condition, known as psoriasis—enough so that an untrained eye might mistake one for the other. This is only made more complicated by the fact that in some cases, the two conditions can overlap or occur simultaneously, a condition known as psoriasiform dermatitis. The primary difference between the two is that eczema typically causes intense itching, while psoriasis is generally accompanied by a burning or stinging sensation. 

Although psoriasis and eczema have similar triggers, a psoriasis outbreak may also be caused by sunburn, skin injury, and exposure to certain medications. It isn't typically triggered by exposure to irritants or allergens in the same way as eczema. Finally, psoriasis tends to show up later in life than eczema and may be linked to serious conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. 

How is Ear Eczema Diagnosed and Treated?

Eczema is typically identified through a physical exam. The doctor will examine the site of the outbreak for symptoms. In some cases, this physical examination will be enough—if your description of the symptoms meshes with known symptoms of eczema, the physician may choose to start discussing treatment immediately.

In some cases, however, they may need to perform further testing. They may test for allergens or take a skin biopsy to determine if the outbreak is due to eczema or another form of dermatitis. If they suspect a more severe underlying cause, they may even choose to perform a blood test.

The good news about eczema is that it's relatively simple to treat, on your ear or otherwise.

Most outbreaks can be cleared up in several days to two weeks through the application of a topical corticosteroid cream. You might simply be able to purchase this cream over the counter if the outbreak is mild enough. However, the doctor may also choose to prescribe something stronger.

If topical moisturizer fails to do the trick, you may need to move to oral medication. There's also a new form of treatment known as phototherapy. The doctor starts by applying a moisturizing oil to the treatment area, at which point it is subjected to various spectrums of UV light. 

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for eczema at this time. The most you can do is mitigate the symptoms when an outbreak occurs. You can also reduce the likelihood of experiencing an outbreak through an understanding of your own triggers.

Make sure to also wash your clothes and bedding regularly, avoid taking showers that are too hot, and keep yourself properly hydrated. 

And since it's currently Better Hearing Month, consider booking an appointment with your audiologist—after all, it can't hurt.