Itchy Ears in Children: Causes and Treatment

Itchy ears are often the result of hygiene problems, allergies, and infections. Fortunately, it's possible to prevent and treat these situations.
Itchy Ears in Children: Causes and Treatment

Last update: 27 December, 2022

Itchy ears in children, or ear eczema, consist of inflammation and scaling of the epidermis – the outermost layer of skin – in the outer ear. Dermatitis causes redness and is often complicated when children scratch the area unrestrainedly to relieve the itching.

This is a condition caused mainly by allergies, viral infections, bacteria, fungi, and even a lack or excess of hygiene. In fact, the last two -as pointed out by specialists- are the most common causes, especially during childhood.

Inadequate hygiene habits: The origin of itchy ears in children

Poor ear hygiene leads to the accumulation of earwax, a sticky and yellowish substance that the ear itself secretes to lubricate and clean the dirt that comes in from outside.

There are mothers who are wary of cleaning their children’s ears because they know that, in this vulnerable area, a large part of the proper functioning of the sense of hearing is supported. Therefore, as a result of this fear, many mothers and fathers allow the ears of their little ones to accumulate wax, which leads to annoying itchy ears.

A woman cleaning a child's ear with a swab.

At the same time, there are other mothers who can’t stand to see their children’s ears with earwax and strive to keep them clean all the time. Excessive and improper hygiene also causes the appearance of ear eczema.

Other common causes of itchy ears in children

Sometimes itchy ears can be a symptom of an infection in the ear canal. Bacteria, viruses, and fungi can be responsible for this condition, usually following a cold or flu.

Swimmer’s ear is one of the classic infections that cause itchy ears in children. It usually originates when water gets trapped in the ear canal after swimming at the beach or in a pool. This usually produces moisture and encourages the growth and invasion of germs.

Ear infections should be evaluated and treated by a health care professional. Medicated ear drops are usually prescribed to relieve discomfort.

In older children, the use of earphones is a common cause of itchy ears. In most cases, headphones lead to increased wax and dirt accumulation and irritation due to the direct effect on the walls of the ears.

In these cases, reducing the frequency of headphone use may be effective in reducing itchy ears. However, if itching persists or other symptoms are added, medical attention should be sought.

How should children’s ears not be cleaned?

Children should be taught that the ear is a very delicate and sensitive area. Therefore, they shouldn’t clean their ears by inserting their finger in them or scraping the skin with their fingernail to remove earwax.

In addition, the use of cotton swabs isn’t recommended, especially in children, as their misuse could perforate the eardrum, cause otitis or any other ailment. The famous cotton swabs also often cause the formation of plugs when, instead of removing the substance – as they’re expected to do – they introduce it further inside until it plugs the ear canal and causes poor hearing.

There are also those who use diluted alcohol with distilled water or perfume to disinfect the area. However, this is a measure that is also contraindicated by specialists.

“Cleaning the outside of the ear with a soft, wet wipe is a healthy and non-hazardous way to achieve efficient disinfection.”

Avoid itchy ears in children with proper cleaning

Children’s ears should be cleaned regularly. A good way is to do it during the daily bath, as this way, you’ll be able to prevent the so-called ear eczema. In addition, you should be careful not to damage the skin or cause force inside the ear canal.

Take a soft, thin cloth and wash it with plenty of soap and water, then rinse it and wring it out so that it’s only damp. Next, wrap it around one of your index fingers and run it over the ear opening. If there’s a lot of earwax, use another part of the cloth and do the same procedure until the area’s clean.

A newborn baby's ear.

Final tips to prevent ear eczema

To prevent your child from suffering from itchy ears, all you need to do is follow these tips:

  1. Sanitize your child’s ears on a regular basis.
  2. Clean the earwax using a clean, damp, thin, soft cloth.
  3. Don’t insert your finger or any other element into the ear canal to remove earwax.

Also, remember that while itchy ears in children are often due to poor hygiene habits, other times, it can be caused by an infection.

When your child complains of ear pain, you notice that the area around the ear hurts, or you see changes in the color and texture of the earwax, take your child to the doctor immediately. It’s common that the itching and discomfort are caused by some type of infection that requires certain care and specific treatment.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.