Itchy, festering ears can result from eczema, a skin condition that affects infants, children and adults. Eczema of the ears can affect the ear lobe, skin covering the folds of the outer ear and the external auditory canal which is the tube through which sounds travel to reach the middle ear. Infants and pre-verbal children may show irritability and discomfort, and will tug or grasp at their ear. Older children will complain of itchiness, discomfort or pain. This condition is relatively common, and should not be ignored as it not only detracts from your child’s quality of life, but it also can lead to further problems.
Symptoms of eczema differ from person to person and include itchy, dry skin that is inflamed and red. Severe cases can develop open lesions and rashes that spread. Eczema that is within the ear canal may not show external symptoms, but, often, outbreaks of eczema within the inner areas of the ear co-occur with the appearance of eczema symptoms on the visible parts of the ear or elsewhere on the body. Symptoms may include discharge from the ear or redness, itching, peeling or cracking of skin on the ear. Visible symptoms that appear elsewhere may include small bumps on the cheeks, scalp and forehead, or rashes on the trunk, arms and legs.
Atopic dermatitis is the most common cause of eczema, according to Healthy Skin Guide. Atopic dermatitis occurs when a person with sensitivities or intolerances is exposed to foods they are sensitive to, or have contact with allergens such as dust, mold, animal dander or pollen. Environmental irritants like chemicals, air conditioning, tobacco smoke, humid or dry conditions may also trigger episodes of ear eczema. Proclivities toward eczema have a genetic basis, according to authors Sara Brown and W. H. Irwin McLean at the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.
Seborrhoeic eczema commonly afflicts portions of the ears of infants, children and adults, according to HealthPDF.org. Infections of the skin caused by the yeast Pityrosporum may play a causal role in seborrhoeic eczema.
Above and beyond the itching, discomfort and scaly appearance on the outer parts of the ear, eczema can cause inflammation of the auditory ear canal, a condition termed otitis externa. Left untreated, otitis externa can develop into an inner ear infection, which, in turn, can lead to hearing loss.
Consult with your child’s pediatrician if she develops symptoms that may indicate eczema of the ear. A medical expert should evaluate your child to evaluate the severity of the condition, and to help diagnose the possible causes that contribute to your child’s condition.
Seborrhoeic Eczema Treatment
Anti-yeast medication may be effective for treatment of seborrhoeic eczema. Topical application of selenium shampoo, coal tar preparations, anti-fungal creams, steroids, and emollient creams are often prescribed when eczema afflicts the scalp or skin. Though these applications may help for the outer ear, they are not appropriate for treatment of eczema, inflammation or infection of the ear canal. Your child’s doctor will make recommendations for the treatment of symptoms and the underlying cause.
Atopic Eczema Treatment
Atopic eczema can result from varying causal factors, and so a systemic treatment approach is often indicated. Symptoms that affect the outer ear may be soothed with topical treatments. However, eczema of the inner ear may require a more complicated approach that focuses on identifying and eliminating foods and allergens that trigger the condition. Experts, such as Phyllis Balch, author of “Prescription for Nutritional Healing,” suggest that certain foods and food additives may contribute to eczema outbreaks and severity. Use an elimination diet, as described at the website, Dr. Cranton, to identify foods that trigger or exacerbate symptoms. Eliminate all potential allergens from the diet, including dairy and milk products, eggs, products that contain wheat or gluten, and foods that contain additives, aspartame, preservatives, artificial colors and artificial flavors, per the recommendations outlined at Feingold.org. Mothers who are breastfeeding should also eliminate these allergens from their diet. Reintroduce these foods back into the diet one item at a time. Eliminate that food from the diet if eczema symptoms appear again or worsen.
- Feingold: Selection of Studies Supporting Diet Therapy
- Healthy Skin Guide: Foods Causing Eczema
- Journal of Investigative Dermatology: Eczema Genetics: Current State of Knowledge and Future Goals
- “Prescription for Nutritional Healing"; Phyllis Balch; 2006