Eczema is a skin condition that can manifest in various parts of the body. Symptoms of this chronic inflammatory disease can even appear in the ear canal and the outer ear. Ear eczema primarily affects infants and children but can also impact adults. Although it is highly uncomfortable, there are fortunately several solutions to alleviate it. What are they?
Ear Eczema: What is it?
Ear eczema is a skin condition that causes inflammation in the external auditory canal. It presents itself through redness and intense itching around the ear and within the auditory canal. The itching is caused by the inflammation of the mucous membrane. When the individual scratches, this increases the risk of infection which can lead to a ear infection. The part of the ear surrounding the area affected by the eczema swells and sometimes causes difficulties in hearing. As the condition progresses, crusts and oozing appear and severe pain is experienced.
Eczema of the ear canal can originate from allergic or atopic sources. Allergic eczema of the ear is caused by contact with an object or product that triggers an allergic reaction. It's important to note that this form of eczema does not necessarily occur upon first contact. Eczema in the ear can stem from materials used in earrings, hearing aids, or even mobile phones. Skincare or haircare products that come into contact with the ear can also be the cause.
Flare-ups ofeczema in the ear are due to genetic predispositions. Individuals who are prone to this condition produce significant amounts of immunoglobulin E, antibodies, in response to environmental antigens. Their skin reacts excessively to its environment and is particularly sensitive during periods of stress. According to several studies, 50 to 70% of people affected by eczema have a first-degree relative (father, mother, brother or sister) who has also been affected.
What treatments for ear eczema?
Eczema of the ear canal should be addressed as soon as possible by a doctor. If you notice one or more symptoms related to the disease, it is recommended to promptly consult a dermatologist. They typically prescribe a cortisone cream to alleviate itching and soothe the skin. This molecule has anti-inflammatory and healing properties and is widely used to combat eczema. Applying an emollient several times a day is also recommended to moisturise the infected area.
If the eczema of the ear is due to an allergy, patch tests are conducted to determine which product caused it. Once identified, the allergen must be permanently removed from the patient's daily life to prevent any recurrence. It is also possible to supplement medications with homeopathic, allopathic or phytotherapeutic treatments. However, it is advised against using any form of treatment without the doctor's approval.
Once ear eczema has been treated, here are some tips to consider to prevent future flare-ups:
Avoid using cotton swabs to clean your ears, as they can irritate the sensitive area of the ear canal. Opt for gentler methods, such as ear sprays, and stay on the outer edge of the ear canal.
Dry the ears after washing them to prevent stagnant moisture from leading to bacterial proliferation and infection.
If you use earphones, ensure to clean them regularly.
MACKEITH S. & al. Otitis externa. BMJ clinical evidence (2015).
SAURAT J. H., LACHAPELLE J. M., LIPSKER D., THOMAS L. et BORRADORI L. Dermatologie et infections sexuellement transmissibles. Elsevier Masson (2017).