ZocdocAnswersItchy but not painful ears... how soon should I seek help?

Question

Itchy but not painful ears... how soon should I seek help?

I've had itchy ears for a few weeks now.. Lately I've noticed when I itch them the wax smells bad.. My ears are itchy but not painful.. I was thinking of seeing a doctor in a few days but should I go before then?

Answer

Although this doesn't sound like an immediate medical emergency, I would definitely recommend that you follow through with your plan to see your primary care doctor about this issue. There are two possibilities which seem likely to me. The first is that you simply have a buildup of wax in the external ear canals. This frequently causes itching and, if it is severe, it may also cause some trouble hearing. Wax buildup is treated with either direct removal of the wax with a small tool or irrigation with warm water. Your doctor can perform both of these procedures for you if necessary. The second is that you have an infection of the external ear canal, known as otitis externa. This also tends to cause itching, as well as drainage from the ears that may have a strong odor. Otitis externa is typically treated with good cleaning of the ear canals together with topical antibiotics and steroids to reduce swelling and kill off the infection. If you develop fever, severe ear pain or swelling, or any other concerning symptoms, you should go see your doctor immediately or go to an emergency room for a more immediate evaluation. Again, please see your doctor soon. Good luck!

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