About 5 years ago I awoke to an incredibly irritating feeling. It was as if zillions of microscopic bugs were crawling in my left ear canal. I did not have insurance, and for this and other reasons I did not seek professional medical help. Believing it was some kind of bug or organism, I tried to kill it by poring hydrogen peroxide in my ear, and then iodine, and then a kind of ointment meant to kill ear mites in cats. None of these "treatments" had any effect at all. One night it got so bad I went to the emergency room, but they could not see anything wrong with my ear, and suggested I see an ear specialist. Eventually I did go to see an ear specialist. He took one look and said that I had some kind of skin condition (he had a long name for it that I don't remember). He wrote a prescription for some drops to put in my ear. (Stupid me - didn't write down the name of the drops either.) The drops almost cured the problem. The feeling of bugs deep within the ear canal went away, but the feeling persisted in the outer part of the ear (where the canal widens out into the strangly shaped flesh of the outer ear... the part that catches sound.) Afterwards, the problem got worse and worse. It never again moved into the area deep within the ear canal, but got more and more bothersome in the outer area. Now the feeling has changed a little bit as well. Sometimes it feels like a single large bug crawling. Sometimes it is a small region that just feels numb and tingles. Recently I visited an ear, nose, and throat specialist. She looked at the skin through some kind of large microscope thing. She said she could not see any kind of bug or organism, and she did not know what the problem was. She did say that the skin in my left ear did not appear to be normal, though she had never seen the condition before. She prescribed a concoction that was invented by a local doctor that he had named "itchy ear solution". These drops helped a little, but not much, and certainly did nothing to cure the problem. I can't find the doctor that originally diagnosed the problem (I have since moved away from that part of the country).
One final comment. I have always suspected that the original diagnosis may have been wrong. For one thing, I could not understand how I could have never experienced anything like this problem for my entire life, and then one night I go to sleep with no symptoms whatsoever, and the next morning wake up with symptoms that can only be described as very advanced and very extreme indeed. There's another catch. I was working as a private detective at the time (I have changed professions since then). In the course of my work, I made several enemies and had received other kinds of harrasment. I know that some of them had broken into my home also near that time. I couldn't help wondering if this is something that could have been caused by putting some kind of solution or something into my ear as I slept that night. Probably not, but just thought I'd ask.
I think you most likely have seborrjeic dermatitis, common in the ear canals. (Also the eyebrows, sides of the nose, and scalp, where it looks "dry.") It makes the skin itch and encourages scratching, and the healing may feel like bugs, though there are most certainly no bugs there and never were. The only relation with your detective work I can think of would be the stress involved, and of course thinking you have bugs in your ear induces its own stress....
Bottom line: see a skin doctor, and meantime leave the area alone--no scratching (and for heaven's sakes no peroxide!) A steroid drop should make the problem go right away, and you can use it again every time it comes back and knock it down. As to why it started when it did, unanswerable but not important.
Can't be formication, since two qualified physicians have already said that there is something unusual about the way the skin in my left ear looks (particularly as compared with the skin in my right ear, which appears to be normal).
Well... fortune has taken a positive turn! Just traced down the ear specialist that diagnosed the problem, and his office had a record of my visit. Unfortunately, there was no record of the medicine he prescribed, but there is a record of his diagnosis. He said I had "Chronic Mycotic Otitis External". Running out the door right now, but will look this up on the internet when I return.
I just HAD to comment on your physicians' comments that the skin in that ear looks. I've heard the same thing from doctors more than a couple of times... I've experienced the same thing for about 5 years now --- in alternating ears-- and for a while I got frequent (and severe!) staph infections in my ears from scratching them. I realized it was the itching that was causing the problem so I saw several doctors in an effort to get to the root of the problem. For whatever reason, it was always one ear or the other, but never both at the same time, so there was always a way to compare the appearance of the skin in one ear to the other.
The skin in that ear looks different because you are probably often scratching it, or rubbing it, or tugging on the ear to try to get a look at it in the mirror to see what the heck is in there that's causing the trouble! All these will cause the skin to become inflamed.
I haven't gotten an infection in almost a year, and the bug-crawling sensation has lessened. The reason? The umpteenth ENT I visited simply explained that ear wax is a lubricant to prevent the ear from drying out & itching... I had been using q-tips in an effort to clear out whatever it was that was causing the itching. What I thought was helping was actually perpetuating the problem by removing the wax and causing the itch.
I know it's a troubling condition, but the best thing to do is to leave your ear alone. When it itches put cortizone drops in, and then just try to keep your mind off of it since the more you mess around with your ear the worse the problem will be.
I understand what you mean when you say the problem cropped up so mysteriously & severely overnight as that's the way it seemed with me. But thinking that someone would sneak in & sabotage your ear is pretty far fetched. I think anyone risking Breaking & Entering would do something a little more worth it than make your ear itch!
This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information.
The Content on this Site is presented in a summary fashion, and is intended to be used for educational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to be and should not be interpreted as medical advice or a diagnosis of any health or fitness problem, condition or disease; or a recommendation for a specific test, doctor, care provider, procedure, treatment plan, product, or course of action. Med Help International, Inc. is not a medical or healthcare provider and your use of this Site does not create a doctor / patient relationship. We disclaim all responsibility for the professional qualifications and licensing of, and services provided by, any physician or other health providers posting on or otherwise referred to on this Site and/or any Third Party Site. Never disregard the medical advice of your physician or health professional, or delay in seeking such advice, because of something you read on this Site. We offer this Site AS IS and without any warranties. By using this Site you agree to the following Terms and Conditions. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.