Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Itchy and Scratchy

Q: I have finally found an answer to that smelly stuff in my throat! Thank you so much.

You're welcome. I live for your praise.

Now, I would like to know if you know why my ears are always so itchy way down deep. I clean them with q-tips every day… but still can never relieve that horrible itch. Do you think there may be a correlation to the “tonsil stones?”

Interesting question. No, really, it is, because I can see this going in two different directions.

On the one hand, you're using Q-tips way too often. Every day? Give your ears a break! Wax has a protective effect; it tends to reduce the risk of bacterial and fungal infections in the ear canal. A little wax is a good thing.

You do not need to polish your ear canals.

By doing so, you might have kicked into motion something called the "itch-scratch syndrome." Here's how it works: the more you scratch, the more you itch, and the more you itch, the more you scratch. It's a vicious circle.

When you scratch your skin, mast cells release histamine, a chemical which causes itching (among other signs of inflammation). The more you scratch, the more histamine gets released, and so forth.

Sometimes, the only way to break this circle is to use a steroid cream. If your primary care doctor doesn't know which ones are helpful for itchy ears, she should ask an ENT.


You'll recall, however, that I said this could go in one of two directions. You brought up the point that you're also having tonsil stones (tonsilloliths). Could these be causing that deep-down itch?

YES. Anything causing pain or irritation in the tonsil can be perceived incorrectly as an ear problem. When pain elsewhere in the head or throat causes ear pain, this is called referred otalgia (referred ear pain). A bad enough case of tonsillitis will cause ear pain, and pain in the jaw joint (TMJ, or temporomandibular joint) will usually be blamed on the ear.

Of the two possibilities, itch-scratch syndrome is the easier to treat. If I were your doctor, I'd start there.

Needless to say, share this information with your doc. Good luck!



At 5:58 AM, Blogger Kate R said...

Not that it has to do with ANYTHING you've posted here, but what do you think of this? Human ears evolved from fish gills.

At 8:19 AM, Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

There's almost nothing newsworthy about this. Ears are quite clearly branchial arch structures (gill-derived) -- that's been known for hundreds of years. In my former life as a researcher, I microdissected branchial arches from mouse embryos (ducking to avoid stones from the anti-vivisectionists) and grew mouse ears in tissue culture. Proof of concept.

About the only thing vaguely interesting about that article is the suggestion that ancient fishes began doing this before they made the evolutionary trek onto land. That's vaguely interesting, but not earth-shattering.

Sorry to be a wet blanket!

At 8:35 AM, Blogger Kate R said...

but. . but do you think maybe someone here ought be alerted?

So it's been known for hundreds of years, huh? wonder when it'll catch on.

Speaking of whizbang scientific institutes, did you see what the Vatican had to say about Intelligent Design?

The Vatican's chief astronomer said Friday that "intelligent design'' isn't science and doesn't belong in science classrooms . . .The Rev. George Coyne, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, said placing intelligent design ideas alongside the theory of evolution in school programs was "wrong'' and was akin to mixing apples with oranges.

"Intelligent design isn't science even though it pretends to be,'' the ANSA news agency quoted Coyne as saying on the sidelines of a conference in Florence.

At 10:26 AM, Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Ah, the Vatican. Gotta love 'em. Still stung over Galileo.

At 9:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow, i was gonna ask the same question...my ears itch all the time too, and i use q-tips every other day at least. i told my doctor and she said it was fine. maybe i'll ask again. hmm.

At 11:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you don't like the Q-tips on a daily basis, you'll really hate hearing that I use the end of a bobby pin to relieve the itchiness. Due to whatever it is, allergies, TMJ, my ears hurt or itch, are stuffed up constantly, the least I can do is give them a bit of comfort by scratching them.

At 9:11 AM, Blogger Interested said...

Safer than a bobby pin .... some drug stores sell a wax removal tool that is made of plastic and has a closed loop on the end and a large disk, too large to fit in your ear. The large disk limits the depth that you can insert the wax gathering loop into your ear.

At 8:12 PM, Anonymous Katie said...

Old subject, but perhaps you can help - why in the world does it feel like my eardrums are itchy! Sometimes, I swear, it feels like a drop of liquid is slowly rolling down the ear drum - it gets so itchy in there, it's almost painful! Please help if you can... :)

At 6:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Same question as Kate R! Itchy eardrums!!! Maddening!!

At 10:31 PM, Blogger Hey Mama said...

Well, DOUGLAS, not everyone is a rodent-hacking researcher and perhaps there are just those of us who are suffering from these symptoms who have never looked at the inside of our branchial arch structures AND are just looking for some ideas about why our ears itch all the way into our brain stems.

To truly pass your message through the filter of communicative discourse into the coffee cup of collective consciousness, you are obliged to employ polysyllabic linguistic terminology. However, a blog post titled "wax, boogers, and phlem" is not one of them.


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