Eczema is an inflammatory disease that can affect skin anywhere on the body, including the outer ear. This produces tiny blisters as well as symptoms of itching, scaling, flaking, redness and soreness, which can be difficult to tell apart from other skin conditions, like fungal infections. The itching is often so severe that the person scratches the ear until the top layer is destroyed. A lady once told me: “This itching sometimes drives me crazy and absolutely to distraction; in fact whenever it starts, I have to stop what I’m doing to give my ear a good scratching with whatever I find available.”
In moments of desperation, people have resorted to poking the ear canal with pen lids, tweezers, broom sticks, unfurled paper clips, fingers, cotton buds, towels, etc. These objects may offer a temporal relief, but will, unfortunately, do more harm than good. For instance, as noted before, the top layer of the skin may be destroyed in the process. When this happens, tissue fluid may leak out and become coagulated, forming dry crusts on the surface of the skin of the ear. Also, if blisters are present, they will rupture and this contributes to crust formation too. The ear may then become secondarily infected by bacteria, with the formation of small abscesses or pustules. Note that the external auditory canal and the earflap are warm, dark and prone to becoming moist, thus making excellent environments for these bacteria to thrive. There are cases in which the eczema and bacterial or fungal infection may co-exist.
The progress of ear eczema varies with the individual person. The blistering phase may predominate in one case, the dry and scaly phase in another. Almost always, persons will suffer from severe itching. Sometimes, the eczema will cover the entire ear. You can imagine how unsightly such a person’s ear will look like being predominated by the blistering or dry-scaly phase.
Eczema of the ear can be caused by exposure to allergens (contact dermatitis) or can be spontaneous. Contact dermatitis in the ear canal can result from almost any local irritant, including topical anti-infective agents and anesthetics and other topical preparations. Common contact allergens include nickel-containing earrings and numerous beauty products, for example, perfumes, hairsprays, lotions, hair dye. It also may be associated with the use of hearing aids and earplugs. In fact, the symptoms and causes of ear eczema are complex. And many have treated such itchy, flaky, blistery ear conditions with creams combining an anti-inflammatory corticosteroid (to counteract eczema); topical antifungal and anti-bacterial agents.
These should not be used long term, as topical antibiotics can trigger an allergic skin reaction that can make the eczema worse. Some people even try using all kinds of eardrops, soaps, steroid shampoos and lotions as the solution. The skin of the ear canal may thus be modified in its appearance as a result of the application of many different local medications. Swabs should be taken to find the cause of any infection. Treatment will be more difficult, if the person waits until the eczematous skin eruption has been present for a long period of time before consulting a physician.
Nature has again provided us with solutions that may help alleviate some of the unpleasant, discomforting and sometimes unbearable symptoms of ear eczema as follows:
Bryophyllum pinnatum (African never die or revival plant; abamoda-Yoruba; odaa opue-Igbo) – is well known for its haemostatic and wound healing properties and has also been shown to alleviate pains of various intensities because of its potentials as analgesic, anti inflammatory, anti allergic, antibacterial, antimicrobial, antifungal and antihistamine. As an effective remedy for eczema of the ear, with abscess discharge, the leaf is pulverised and liquid expressed and dropped into the ears.
Newbouldia laevis (ogilisi-Igbo; Akoko-Yoruba; Aduruku-Hausa)-wash the stem bark thoroughly, scrap and then instill drops of the resultant juice into the affected ear, 2 X daily.
Lawsonia inermis (laali, Lalli)-soaked laali leaves may be boiled in sufficient amount of water. The solution is applied unto the ear as drop.
Borreria ocymoides (ogwu ngwo-Igbo; irawole-Yoruba) -the juice of leaves and stem are applied on affected ear.
Sanseviera liberica (leopard lily; ebube-agu-Igbo; abala-Yoruba) -to alleviate most of the symptoms associated with eczema, the leaves are pulverised, squeezed out and used as an ear drop. Apply 2-3 times daily, until condition improves.
Calotropis procera-(sodom apple; bomu bomu -Yoruba; otokwuru- Igbo)-the latex from the leaves has been used to alleviate many symptoms of ear itching especially in cases where blisters are formed and are “weeping.” The latex can also be collected in Shea butter to make it milder and then applied as cream on affected ear. Please use with caution as it causes irritation in contact with the eye. Wash your hands carefully after each application. Juice from the leaves and root bark – mixed with cucumber extract or vinegar is also highly beneficial.
Onions – These are helpful in the treatment of almost any type of eczematous condition.
Peppermint- 1 level tsp of leaves infused in a standard teacup of boiled water for 10 minutes and the liquid is used as compress. You can also use mint oil on the affected ear.
Basil- Fresh leaves can be juiced or decocted and used as eardrop.
Natural honey- If you can get pure natural honey straight from the comb, then you are on your way to freedom from ear eczema.
Emollients- They are moisturisers that provide the skin with a barrier, which softens and hydrates the skin. This barrier will prevent dryness and make the skin feel more comfortable. The most important thing to do if you have eczema is to keep the skin moisturized to prevent it from drying out. Emollients are available in many forms-ointments, creams, lotions, gels and oils. Shea butter cream is probably one of the most popular emollients. Simply coat cotton wool with shea butter and then place into the outer ear. This will help to keep the skin moisturized thereby relieving scaling, flaking and dryness. Other examples are -aloe vera, okra, chickweed, avocado oil, almond oil, sunflower, jojoba etc. Emollients should be used at least twice daily but you can use them as often as you need. Like all new products, it is advisable that you test a little on your skin first to ensure no irritation occurs.
Aloe vera- Squeeze out the gel and apply on the affected ear. Do not wash off; allow the gel to stay on the skin. Its emollient, astringent, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and antibacterial properties will stimulate the skin to recover.
Castor oil- This is also an emollient. Dip a cotton wool in castor oil and then wipe round your ear with it. Coconut oil will also produce excellent results.
Supplements – Take evening primrose oil supplements. These contain essential fatty acids, which can reduce itching.