How Can I Soothe Itchy Ears?

I have very itchy ears. They itch constantly. I am often tempted to scratch using just about anything I can get my hands on. I know it is dangerous to put things into your ears, but I become desperate. The worst part is that the more I scratch them, the more they itch. I've had this problem since childhood. Could the itchiness be caused by a wax buildup?


Now, I don't want to get too technical, but this is what dermatologists call the "itch-scratch syndrome." No kidding. The more you scratch, the more you itch.


There is a very straightforward explanation for this. Scattered throughout a number of tissues in your body are cells called "mast cells." When sufficiently annoyed, these cells excrete into their environment a variety of chemicals that cause swelling and itching (histamine being the most well known to the public). Mast cells are usually triggered by a particular antigen. (An antigen is something that you are allergic to -- for example, goldenrod pollen.) However, if mast cells are aggravated (for example, by that paper clip you were just shoving down your ear canal), they will also spew out their irritating chemicals. This causes more itching, leading to more scratching.... You get the idea.


The treatment for this is very simple. By applying a tiny amount of a steroid ointment to the outer part of your ear canal, you can stop the itching, which will (I hope) prevent you from further scratching. Over-the-counter steroid ointments will sometimes work, but often a prescription-strength ointment is necessary. Once your ears stop itching, stop using the ointment, since chronic use of these medications can do unpleasant things to your skin. How much should you use? Enough to coat the skin, and no more. Pretend that you are using a moisturizer, and you should have the right idea.


What about your ear wax? Without examining you, I have no idea if this is contributing to your problem. Ear wax alone usually does not cause itching. It's what we do to remove the wax that causes itching.


by Douglas Hoffman