Could Itchy Ears Be A Cause Of Tinnitus?

Doctor looking inside of a woman's ear

Tinnitus, characterized by a persistent ringing, hissing, or buzzing sound in the ears, is commonly linked to various underlying conditions, such as ear infections, hearing loss, or exposure to loud noise. Concurrently, itchy ears are a common complaint, often associated with allergies, dry skin, or infections. Unlike an itch on your back or neck, you can’t safely scratch an itch in your ear without risking infection, bleeding, or a ruptured eardrum. 

For the most part, itchy ears are not a sign of a serious health condition and can be easily managed with appropriate care and caution. While both these conditions often present separately, they can occasionally coincide, leading to patient discomfort and a need for effective treatment.

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This article will explore whether there is a substantial scientific link between the occurrence of these two phenomena by examining recent research, anecdotal experiences, and professional medical opinion on the matter. Our ultimate goal is to provide clarity on this issue and possibly aid in better diagnosis and treatment strategies for those affected.

Causes Of Itchy Ears

Itchy ears and tinnitus have several common causes, ranging from benign issues like wax buildup to more complex ones such as underlying skin conditions or allergies. Understanding these causes can pave the way for more effective treatment and prevention strategies.

Wax Buildup

Man entering a QTip into his ear

One of the most prevalent causes of itchy ears is wax buildup. Under normal conditions, ear canals are self-cleaning; wax accumulates, dries up, and then falls out naturally over time. However, some individuals have narrow ear canals that can trap wax, leading to cerumen impactions. This buildup, especially when propelled deeper into the ear by using foreign objects like cotton swabs, can lead to an itching sensation. 

It’s also important to note that our ear canals are lined with skin. As with any other area of skin, prolonged contact with any substance, including ear wax, can trigger an itching sensation. Excessive ear wax can lead to more severe conditions like hearing loss and even tinnitus if left unattended. The latter occurs because wax impaction reduces auditory input traveling to the brain, causing the perception of phantom sounds.

Excessive Cleaning

On the other hand, overly zealous ear cleaning can paradoxically also lead to itchy ears. Excessive ear cleaning can strip the skin inside your ears of its natural oils, leading to dryness and, subsequently, itching. Overzealous cleaning can also disrupt the ear’s natural protective barriers against pathogens, potentially exposing the ear canal to fungal and bacterial infections. 

Besides, cotton swabs and similar objects can traumatize the ear canal or eardrum when used for cleaning, possibly leading to infections, decreased hearing, and tinnitus. These are more reasons why healthcare professionals often recommend letting the ears clean themselves naturally unless otherwise indicated.

Ear Infections

Ear infections, particularly outer ear infections, can also cause itchiness. This symptom can often serve as an early sign of an impending infection. Other symptoms, such as swelling, pain, and drainage, may also manifest as the infection progresses. Various pathogens, including bacteria and fungi, can cause these infections.

Untreated, they can lead to conductive hearing loss, a condition where sounds are blocked from getting through the outer or middle ear. This type of hearing loss can also precipitate tinnitus in the affected ear.

Dermatological Conditions

Another common cause of itchy ears is dermatologic conditions like eczema and psoriasis. In severe cases of ear eczema, the skin can crack and leak a thick, yellow, or white fluid (pus). 

Patients with severe ear eczema in their ear canals may experience ringing noise (tinnitus) or hearing loss. However, hearing loss and tinnitus caused by eczema relate to the outer ear, not the middle or inner ear. For these cases, it’s crucial to consult a dermatologist or an ENT specialist.


Man holding his outer ear

Allergies, both food and environmental, can also lead to itchy ears. For example, individuals with hay fever or pollen allergies may experience itchiness in their ears as a side effect, along with other common allergy symptoms. 

Allergy-induced inflammation can cause an overproduction of mucus in the nose and ears, leading to eustachian tube dysfunction. This can result in symptoms such as ear fullness, ear popping, conductive hearing loss, and in some cases, tinnitus.

Although many causes of ear itching can also cause tinnitus, there’s no evidence to suggest that ear itching directly leads to tinnitus. However, once the underlying cause of the ear itching is treated, the tinnitus symptoms related to the onset should also resolve. Therefore, a prompt investigation into the cause of itchy ears is essential to alleviate any accompanying auditory issues and prevent further complications.

Seeking Appropriate Treatment Options

Itchy ears, while common and generally not indicative of a severe condition, can be an irritating symptom with a variety of causes. 

From wax buildup and over-cleaning to ear infections and dermatological conditions, understanding these causes is vital to effectively manage and treat the issue. Even allergies, both food and environmental, can lead to itchy ears and related complications. While many of these conditions may concurrently lead to tinnitus, it is important to note that there is no direct causative link between itchy ears and tinnitus based on current research.

If you experience persistent itching, it’s advisable to consult with a healthcare provider to understand its root cause and undertake appropriate treatment. Moreover, it is crucial to remember that attempts to scratch the itch, particularly using foreign objects, can exacerbate the issue and potentially lead to more serious complications, including infection and even hearing loss. 

Maintaining good ear hygiene while avoiding over-cleaning and getting regular checks is recommended for proper overall ear health. Remember that treatment of the underlying cause of ear itching often results in the resolution of concurrent tinnitus symptoms, further underlining the importance of addressing the root cause of the issue.

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