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What Causes Ear Bleeding?

Overview

There are a few possible causes of bleeding from your ear. Some of these may be concerning. Make an appointment to see your doctor if you experience bleeding from your ear. They can help you figure out what’s happening and why.

When you meet with your doctor, they’ll try to identify what could have caused the bleeding. They’ll also ask you about other symptoms and try to detect any other signs you might have.

Keep reading to understand the most common causes of ear bleeding.

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Causes

Causes of ear bleeding

Several conditions or injuries could lead to bleeding from your ear. Each of these has unique symptoms, which can help your doctor diagnose the underlying cause.

Ruptured or torn eardrum

A tear or puncture in your eardrum can also cause symptoms like:

  • pain or discomfort in the ear
  • hearing loss
  • ringing in the ear
  • a spinning sensation, known as vertigo
  • nausea or vomiting caused by the vertigo

Some people will puncture their eardrum and not know it until they experience additional symptoms.

Ear infection

An infection in the middle ear can also lead to:

  • pressure or pain in the ear
  • fever
  • balance problems
  • difficulty sleeping

Barotrauma

Sudden abrupt changes in altitude can cause ear barotrauma. This can lead to ear bleeding from rupture of the eardrum as well as:

  • ear pain and pressure
  • dizziness
  • ringing in the ears

Flying in an airplane or SCUBA diving can both increase your risk for this cause of ear bleeding.

Read more: 3 ways to stop your ears ringing after a concert »

Foreign object in the ear canal

Losing or pushing on object in your ear canal can puncture your eardrum. This can lead to bleeding from the ear and other symptoms like:

Keep reading: Symptoms and treatment for foreign objects in the body »

Cancer of the ear canal

This rare cancer can cause other symptoms, including:

  • pain or pressure in the ear
  • headaches
  • facial pain or numbness
  • blurred or altered vision

Trauma to the head

A hit, fall, or accident can cause a head injury that can lead to bleeding from the ear. This could be a sign of bleeding around the brain, so you should seek emergency medical attention.

Learn more: Signs of concussion in children »

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Call a doctor

When to call your doctor

Ear bleeding is always a reason to seek medical attention from a doctor. Some causes of bleeding from the ears can be dangerous. Call a doctor or emergency medical clinic when you first notice the bleeding. This is particularly important if blood comes out of your ears and you recently experienced head trauma.

Other causes of ear bleeding, such as an ear infection, are less severe. However, not treating the infection or any other cause could lead to complications or additional problems. Make an appointment with your doctor regardless of what you suspect the cause to be.

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Complications

Are there complications?

Bleeding from your ears typically won’t lead to complications, but the underlying causes for the bleeding can lead to long-term issues.

For example, a ruptured eardrum can become infected. Your eardrum is a natural barrier between your middle ear and germs, water, and other objects. Without the eardrum in place to protect the inner workings of your ear, you could develop an infection.

A severe ear infection could infect your ear’s very fragile bones. This could lead to permanent hearing loss if the infection is not properly treated.

Common complications of other ear bleeding causes include:

  • changes to language perception
  • permanent hearing loss
  • permanent ringing in the ear
  • permanent cognitive difficulties
  • frequent headaches
  • frequent vertigo
  • balance problems

Read more: What you need to know about chronic ear infections »

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Diagnosis

Diagnosing ear bleeding

When you visit your doctor after you notice ear bleeding, your doctor will first perform a physical exam and inspect your ears, neck, head, and throat. They’ll ask for a full medical history and details about when the bleeding started and what may have led up to it.

If you recently had a fall or accident, your doctor may feel confident that your bleeding is the result of an injury. Your doctor may order imaging tests or lab tests to confirm the diagnosis or check for additional damage.

In severe cases, this is considered an emergency. Your doctor may send you to a hospital or emergency care facility for further tests where healthcare providers can closely monitor you for changes in consciousness.

If the cause for the bleeding isn’t clear, your doctor may conduct a more thorough physical exam. Your doctor could use an otoscope to see inside your ear and look for possible damage, debris, or another cause. If that test returns nothing obvious, additional imaging tests like an X-ray or CT scan may be helpful. Lab tests may also be done to evaluate for infection.

Keep reading: What to expect from an ear examination »

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Treatment

Ear bleeding treatment

Once your doctor identifies what’s causing your ear to bleed, the two of you can work together to find a treatment that’s right for you. Treatments for ear bleeding address the underlying cause. When the cause is treated, the bleeding will stop. These treatments include:

  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics can treat and clear up some infections. However, not all ear infections will respond to antibiotics. Viral infections will not respond to antibiotic therapy.
  • Watchful waiting: Many of the underlying causes for ear bleeding will clear up by themselves over time. This is the most common treatment for both a ruptured eardrum and a concussion or other types of observable head trauma. During the days and hours after you start bleeding, your doctor will ask you to report any changes. Additional treatment could be needed.
  • Pain treatment medication: Over-the-counter pain medications may ease the discomfort and irritating pain sensation from ear infections, damage, or pressure problems.
  • Warm compresses: Wet a washcloth with hot or warm water. Place the cloth over your sore ear. The heat from the warm compress will gently ease pain and discomfort.
  • Protect your ears: Until your doctor gives you the all clear, use ear covers or plugs to prevent water and debris from entering your ears.
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