Does the skin around your ears feel dry, itchy, or irritated? There are a number of things that may be causing your ear discomfort, such as heat exposure, harsh soaps, or a possible chronic skin condition.

Keep reading to learn more about dry ears, including causes, treatments, and tips for prevention.

Dry skin in and around your ears may be caused by your environment. Hot or cold weather, for example, can make your skin dry out. Your home is also an environment. If the temperature is too warm or the air is too dry, your skin can be impacted.

Exposure to harsh soaps and cleaners also may contribute to dryness by stripping oil from your skin. Perfumes and hot baths can also dry out your skin.

Allergic reaction is another possibility. If you’re allergic to nickel, for example, you can develop dry and crusty skin on your ears if you wear earrings made from the metal.

Other causes include:

  • sun exposure
  • swimming in a chlorinated pool
  • dehydration
  • smoking
  • stress

If you have a chronic skin condition, your ears may also feel dry and irritated. Conditions that could produce this symptom include:

  • psoriasis, which may cause a buildup of skin cells or wax on your ears or on other parts of your body
  • eczema, which may start as slight dryness and progress to skin loss, soreness, or infection of both the inner and outer ear
  • seborrheic dermatitis, which can cause dandruff and powdery or greasy scales on or behind your ears

Learn more: What you should know about psoriasis in and around the ears »

Finding the right treatment for your dry ears depends on the cause of your symptoms. If your ears are dry from lifestyle or other environmental factors, you can likely treat them at home. If you suspect that a chronic skin condition might be the cause, you may need to visit your doctor.

Check your routine

Before you try anything else, look through your soaps, shampoos, and other personal care products to find any that might be causing your irritation. Think about environmental factors that could have contributed to your symptoms. Have you been in the sun recently, taken hot showers, or swam in chlorinated pools?

Keep a diary of any symptoms you have and any products or situations that might be causing them. Discontinue use of cleansers or avoid any activities that make your skin worse.

Moisturize

Treating your dry ears usually involves finding a way to restore moisture to your skin. Choose from ointments, creams, or lotions.

  • contain a mixture of water in an oil, like lanolin or petrolatum, and they provide the best layer of protection.
  • contain oil as well, but their main ingredient is usually water. They need to be applied more often than ointments.
  • feel cooler on the skin, but they’re mostly water mixed with powder crystals. You’ll need to apply lotions very frequently to relieve your symptoms.

Most of these products can be used liberally for as long as you have symptoms. It’s best to apply these moisturizers right after bathing and toweling off.

Try other over-the-counter topicals

If simple moisturizers don’t work, you may want to try over-the-counter (OTC) creams that contain lactic acid, or lactic acid and urea. These products are particularly helpful if your skin is very dry or very scaly. Follow instructions printed on the product, or ask your pharmacist to clarify how much to use and how often to use it.

Switch soaps

Even if you don’t think your symptoms are caused by the products you’re using, it’s a good idea to switch to gentler personal care items until your ears heal. Try using mild moisturizing soaps and shampoos, which won’t dry out your skin when you shower or wash your face.

Don’t know what to buy? Check the labels. Stay away from antibacterial soaps or those containing alcohol and perfumes.

Combat itching

Dry skin often itches, but itching can invite bacteria into your skin and lead to infection. Use a cool compress on your ears if they’re particularly itchy. A hydrocortisone-containing cream or ointment can help with inflammation. Find one that contains at least 1 percent hydrocortisone for the best results.

Avoid allergens

Do you think you might be allergic to a piece of jewelry? Once you develop a sensitivity or allergy to nickel, it becomes a chronic or a lifelong condition. If you suspect you’re allergic to nickel, stop wearing jewelry and let your ears heal. When they’ve healed, switch to jewelry made from a different material, like stainless steel, sterling silver, solid gold, or polycarbonate plastic.

If OTC moisturizers don’t help your skin, or your ears are getting worse, check in with your primary care doctor or a dermatologist. People with skin diseases like psoriasis may need prescription creams and ointments.

Left untreated, dry skin can lead to red, itchy skin known as dermatitis. Your doctor can recommend or prescribe lotions that contain hydrocortisone to treat your dermatitis.

People who are more prone to conditions like psoriasis, eczema, or seborrheic dermatitis may be more prone to infection because those conditions can cause cracks in your skin and lead to infection if not treated. Your doctor can prescribe wet dressings to prevent infection in any cracks you may have in your skin

Your symptoms should improve after you restore moisture to your skin and make simple lifestyle changes. Call your doctor if your dry ears don’t get better with home treatment or if you notice other symptoms that concern you. You may have a chronic skin condition that requires more specialized treatment.

There are many things you can do to prevent dryness and irritation on your ears.

  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air in your home.
  • Turn the temperature down on your bath water. Water that’s too hot can dry skin.
  • Use mild soaps and cleansers, and stay away from heavy perfumes or dyes.
  • Consider bathing less frequently to allow your body’s natural oils to protect your skin.
  • Moisturize your skin when you first notice that it’s drying out.
  • Cover your ears with a hat or apply sunscreen to avoid sunburn.
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  • Wear clothing or hats made of natural fibers, like silk or cotton.
  • Avoid nickel. Instead, choose earrings made from hypoallergenic materials, like sterling silver, solid gold, or stainless steel.

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