Common Causes of a Dry & Crusty Ear Canal

Up close photo of a human earIf your ear feels dry and crusty, there are many possible reasons that could be causing it, including skin conditions and environmental factors. We explore some of these causes below as well as review treatment options.

Skin Conditions

Some skin conditions linked to a dry and crusty ear canal are described here.


Eczema is also known as atopic dermatitis. While eczema is most common in children, it can affect people of all ages. Eczema is a chronic condition that can flare up from time to time, especially after coming into contact with irritants. Eczema can occur in the ear canal, causing the skin to become dry and cracked.


Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease wherein skin cells that grow deep in the skin rise to the surface too quickly. This condition can affect the entire body, including the ears. Since the dead skin cells cannot shed as fast as new ones are made, it can cause the skin in the ear canal to become red, crusty and scaly.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

The causes of seborrheic dermatitis are not well understood, but it is likely due to a combination of oil gland activity, yeast buildup, genetics and changes in the function of the skin barrier. This condition most often affects the oiliest areas of the body, including the scalp, face, eyebrows, eyelids, nose and ears. The scales that characterize seborrheic dermatitis tend to be white or yellow and flaky or crusty.

Environmental Factors

Some environmental factors that can lead to a dry, crusty ear include:

  • Allergies.
  • Stripping soaps and body washes.
  • Dehydration.
  • Stress.
  • Smoking.
  • Swimming in a chlorinated pool.
  • Excessive sun exposure.

Treating a Dry & Crusty Ear

When treating a dry, crusty ear, you should aim to restore moisture and reduce itchiness. Options include:

  • Topical steroid creams for eczema and psoriasis.
  • Antifungal ear drops.
  • Moisturizing ear drops.
  • Petroleum jelly.
  • Keeping the ears clean.

Cleaning the Ears Safely

If you have hardened earwax, you can soften it using an over-the-counter eardrop first. Then you can either wipe out the ear canals with a soft, damp washcloth or by irrigating the ears in the shower or using a bulb syringe. If you have stubborn wax, visit your doctor to have it removed safely.

Never stick anything into your ear canal smaller than your finger. This includes cotton swabs, hairpins and any other small objects. This can result in further impaction or a punctured eardrum. For more information about treating a dry, crusty ear or to schedule an appointment with an ear expert, call the PIH Health House Clinic today.

Los Angeles: 213.483.9930
Orange: 714.516.9570


This information is for educational purposes only.  It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation, or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

Find Our Locations