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How Does Atopic Dermatitis Affect the Ears?

Some people experience atopic dermatitis (AD) in the skin behind the ears or in the junction between the ear and the face. AD may also affect the pinna of the ear, which is the entire outer portion. This may be referred to as ear eczema, as AD is a type of eczema.

Like other areas of the body, AD around the ears causes dryness, redness, and itchiness. AD around the ears can cause painful cracks in the skin. These cracks are also called fissures, and in addition to being painful, they increase the risk of infection.1

What causes ear eczema?

People with AD have a damaged skin barrier. In some people with AD, the damaged skin barrier can be connected to a decrease or lack of filaggrin in the skin. Filaggrin is a protein that plays a key role in the structure and formation of the corneal layer of the skin. The lack of filaggrin has been traced back to genetic mutations in the FLG gene.

This damage to the skin barrier leads to a reduced ability to maintain the skin’s natural amount of water, as well as the sores and rash of AD. The damaged skin barrier may also allow for the entry of airborne allergens to enter the skin, which could lead to an inflammatory response by the immune system.2 AD is also characterized by an intense itch, which leads to repeated scratching. Scratching can also lead to breaks or tears in the skin.1

Treating ear eczema

Good skin care is an important part of treating AD, including AD on the ears. Ears should be gently washed with just water or moisturizing bar soap. After washing, the ears should be thoroughly dried. The skin on and around the ears should also be moisturized, as moisturizers can help repair the skin barrier and lock in needed moisture.

Topical treatments

There are several topical treatments that may be prescribed for AD and can be used on the skin of the ears, including:

Other treatments for AD are systemic, meaning they treat the entire body, such as immunomodulators, systemic corticosteroids, antihistamines, and systemic antibiotics.

Other symptoms of atopic dermatitis

In addition to cracks behind the ears, AD can cause a rash, scaly patches, itch, bumps or papules, blisters, and a change in skin color. Some people also experience eye symptoms or cracks behind the ears. Over time, the areas of skin affected by AD may become thickened.

Emily Downward | June 2017
  1. Ear Eczema fact sheet, National Eczema Society. Accessed online on 4/3/17 at
  2. Tollefson MM, Bruckner AL. Atopic dermatitis: skin-directed management. Am Acad Pediatrics. 2014 Dec;134(6):e1735-1744. doi: 10.1542/peds.2014-2812.
  3. Eichenfield LF, Tom WL, Chamilin SL, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of atopic dermatitis. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2014;70:338- 351.