Bad smells behind the ears are known to occur for numerous reasons. Most often, the bad smell is associated with a cheese-like odor and can be detected when you rub a finger over the back of the ears or wipe them clean with a cloth. The unpleasant smell behind the ears can be difficult to get rid of sometimes and requires for you to identify what is causing the stinky odor in the first place. Causes are diverse, but poor hygiene is the main issue behind bad, cheese-like smells behind ears.
When do people notice the back of their ears smell bad? Most people become aware of the stinky smell behind their ears when they rub the back of the ears with their hand, wipe them with a cloth or a wet wipe then smell it, when they take their glasses off or out of the blue, without even touching the area, when a breeze of air brings the smell forward. The intensity of the smell varies from person to person. There are people that find the odor smelly, unpleasant, just weird, while others compare it to stinky Swiss cheese or parmesan cheese. A bad cheese smell behind the ears can occur in babies, children and adults of all ages.
What causes the stinky cheese smell behind ears? A cheese smell behind the ears can be caused by so many things and it is possible for more than one causing factor to be responsible for the smell. For example, a tendency to sweat more can cause an unpleasant odor, but a bacterial infection can amplify the smell to the point it becomes absolutely stinky. Here are the top 11 causes for bad, cheese smells behind ears:
1) Poor hygiene. Not washing behind the ears or washing infrequently can cause a bad smell behind the ears to develop. Some people don’t like to wash very often, others neglect to wash thoroughly and dead cells, dust, dirt, bacteria, sweat all accumulate and cause a smelly odor that can become more intense the longer you don’t wash. Poor hygiene of the ears also increases risks of outer and inner ear infections.
2) Long hair. Long hair tends to cover the ears entirely and traps dust, dirt, pollutants, hair products, sweat, scalp oils and dead skin cells. It prevents air from circulating which causes the sweat gland behind the ears to increase perspiration. Long hair also creates a moist environment that encourages bacteria growth behind the ears, especially when it’s hot outside and you’re wearing your hair down or you’re exercising or sleeping and sweating. Thirdly, long hair gets dirty fast and cleaning it is not easy. People with long hair have the habit to constantly touch their hair with their hands, put their hair behind their ears or use hair care products that stimulate oil production and accumulate even more dirt, dust etc.
3) Overactive sweat glands. Sometimes, a bad smell behind the ears is a sign of too much sweating. Some people sweat a lot even when they are sitting and doing nothing. Because sweat contains toxins our body eliminates and creates a moist environment behind the ears, it encourages bacteria growth, fungal infections and a bad smell behind the ears. People that sweat a lot often describe the odor behind their ears as a foul, stinky cheese or armpit smell.
4) Dry skin, eczema, seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff. Skin conditions cause itching and dry, flaky skin. The more you scratch, the more damage you do to the skin and the more dead skin cells fall off and eventually accumulate, blocking pores and resulting in a bad smell. The need to scratch behind the ears also puts you at risk for bacterial or fungal infections which can amplify the bad smell.
5) Stress. Many people suffering from stress experience inexplicable itching and tend to develop unhealthy habits such as scratching. Scratching behind the ears can transfer bacteria and other germs to the area and cause infections and a cheese-like smell. Stress also worsens eczema and even dandruff, encouraging the development of a bad smell behind the ears or where the side of the face meets the hair.
6) Bacterial infection. One of the most common causes of cheese-like smells behind the ears is a bacterial infection. Bacteria can easily be transferred behind the ears by scratching with dirty hands or putting hair behind the ears all the time. Poor hygiene, ear piercings, eczema that causes itching and subsequent scratching, moisture under long hair, wearing glasses are all factors that can lead to infection and a smelly cheese odor behind the ears.
7) Fungal infection. If you don’t have eczema, but tend to scratch behind the ears all the time, then it’s possible you might have a fungus. For example, if you have a red, round rash, then it’s possible you might have a ringworm behind the ear. The fungal infection can cause a smelly cheese odor when scalp oils, dead skin cells, bacteria etc. accumulate. Having long hair and sweating, but not showering or not drying your hair all create the perfect environment for fungi to grow.
8) Ear piercings. Ear piercings are a common cause for bad cheese smell behind the ear. The odor develops when the piercing becomes infected. The smell may be stronger if you don’t clean the fresh piercing or the earring regularly, if you don’t disinfect the area and the earring and is noticeable when you take off the piercing.
9) Mites. Mites feed on dead skin cells, especially those resulting from dandruff or eczema. Moisturizing skin to prevent flakes, using a natural oil for dry scalp and dandruff as well as appropriate hair care products especially designed for treating dandruff, washing regularly can help solve the problem.
10) Allergies. Although not as common as other causes, allergies can cause a smelly cheese odor behind the ears. Food allergies but also pollen allergies can cause a rash behind the ears which makes you scratch and cause small injuries where bacteria may develop.
11) Toxins and pollution. Just like dust and dirt, toxins and pollution particles can accumulate on our skin, in our hair and behind the ears. Sweat causes us to scratch and create microscopic tears where bacteria and other pathogens may grow, causing an infection and a bad smell behind the ears.
How to get rid of bad smell behind ears
Getting rid of a bad smell or cheese-like odor behind the ears can be achieved successfully by approaching the cause or causes of the smell. Here are the best remedies for it:
1) Wash regularly, especially behind the ears. When? After exercising, when it’s hot outside, if you sweat a lot, have been in dust or outside in windy weather and have allergies or long hair.
2) Use medicated shampoo. Shampoos with Zinc pyrithione are great for seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, fungal and bacterial infections and other scalp and skin conditions which can also extend to the ear area (outer ear and behind the ears).
3) Antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory cream. You doctor will prescribe a cream to apply behind the ears. It may contain just an antibacterial or an antifungal, or all to cover multiple causes of infection and symptoms.
4) Use petroleum jelly. I have used petroleum jelly with calendula extract and found it efficient for eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, itching and dry skin. It creates a barrier on the skin, preventing bacteria and other germs from getting through.
5) Clean piercings and earrings regularly to prevent infections. Chose silver earrings for an antibacterial effect. Silver is less likely to cause irritation and predispose to infections than copper, nickel or other metals.
6) Use wet wipes to clean behind the ears when you are on the go. Antibacterial wet wipes are even better since they help reduce bacterial load and promote good hygiene.
7) Rub alcohol to keep the area behind the ears, piercings and earrings clean and get rid of the cheese smell. Clean ear jewelry regularly and dry before putting it back.
8) Cut hair if it’s too long and you don’t have time to wash it often and dry it well. A lot of times, dust, dirt, allergens, bacteria and other elements gather in hair and predispose to acne (especially on the cheeks, jawline, around ear) and bad smell behind ears.
9) Wash pillow cases, hats and other head and hair accessories often. Change them if you get hot and sweat in them or if somebody else wears them.
10) Reduce or discontinue the use of hair care products like hairspray or hair gel.
They increase scalp oil production and accumulate and trap dust, dirt etc.
11) Some people get rid of the bad smell behind their ears with antiperspirant or stick deodorant. However, it’s recommended to wash behind the ears with soap and water first, dry the area, then apply deodorant or antiperspirant.
12) Dab essential oils to reduce cheese smell (tea tree oil, grapefruit seed oil, peppermint oil or others). Watch out for allergic reactions and skin side effects. Always use very little amounts and always after washing well.
A cheese smell behind the ears can be embarrassing as well as worrisome. Normally, the back of your ears shouldn’t smell bad and, when it does, it makes you wonder what could possibly be wrong. What adds to the difficulty of the situation is the fact that the causes of bad smells behind the ears are often hard to identify correctly, so it may take some time and several failed attempts at a treatment before you discover what really causes the cheesy smell behind the ears and what remedies work best for you. What should help identify the cause and get rid of the bad smell behind the ears is looking for additional symptoms like infection symptoms or signs of a skin condition.
This post was updated on Thursday / July 30th, 2020 at 4:27 PM