Ear discharge is any fluid that comes from the ear. It’s also known
Most of the time your ears will discharge earwax. This is an oil
that your body naturally produces. The job of earwax is to make sure that dust,
bacteria, or other foreign bodies don’t get into your ear.
However, other conditions, such as a ruptured eardrum, can cause
blood or other fluids to drain from your ear. This is a sign that your ear has
been injured or infected and requires medical attention.
What causes ear discharge?
In most cases, discharge from your ear is simply ear wax making
its way out of your body. This is natural. Other conditions that can cause
discharge include infection or injury.
Ear infections are one of the most common causes of discharge
from the ear. An ear infection occurs when bacteria or viruses makes their way
into the middle ear. The middle ear is behind the eardrum. It contains three
bones called ossicles. These are vital to hearing. Ear infections cause fluid
to build up in the ear, which can lead to ear discharge.
Trauma to the ear canal can also cause discharge. Such trauma can
occur while cleaning your ear with a cotton swab if you push it in too deep.
An increase in pressure, such as when you’re flying in an
airplane or scuba diving, can result in trauma to your ear. These situations
may cause your eardrum to rupture or tear.
Acoustic trauma is damage to the ear due to extremely loud noises.
Acoustic trauma can also cause your eardrum to rupture. However, these cases
are not as common.
Otitis externa, commonly known as swimmer’s ear, occurs when
bacteria or fungus infects your ear canal. It usually occurs when you spend
long periods of time in water. Too much moisture inside your ear can break down
the skin on the walls of your ear canal. This allows bacteria or fungus to
enter and cause an infection.
However, swimmer’s ear isn’t exclusive to swimmers. It can result
whenever there’s a break in the skin of the ear canal. This might occur if you
have irritated skin as a result of eczema. It can also occur if you insert a
foreign object into the ear. Any damage to your ear canal makes it more
susceptible to infection.
Less common causes
A less common cause for ear discharge is malignant otitis externa, a
complication of swimmer’s ear that causes damage to the cartilage and bones in
the base of the skull.
Other rare causes include a skull fracture, which is a break in
any of the bones in the skull, or mastoiditis, which is an infection of the
mastoid bone behind your ear.
When should I seek medical attention?
You should call your doctor if the discharge from your ear is
white, yellow, or bloody or if you’ve had discharge for more than five days.
Sometimes ear discharge may occur with other symptoms, such as a fever. Tell
your doctor if you have an accompanying symptoms.
If you experience serious pain, your ear is swollen or red, or
you have a loss of hearing, you should see your doctor.
An injury to the ear that causes discharge is another reason to
consult a doctor.
What are the treatment options for ear discharge?
Treatment of your ear discharge will depend on its cause. In some
cases, your condition won’t need medical treatment. For example, the American
Academy of Pediatrics allows a “wait-and-see” approach, accompanied by
close follow-up, as one option for treating mild ear pain in children.
Signs of an ear infection usually start to clear up within the
first week or two, without any treatment. Pain medications might be necessary to
deal with any pain or discomfort. If your child is under 6 months old or has a
fever over 102.2°F, your doctor
might prescribe antibiotic eardrops.
Most cases of ear trauma also heal without treatment. If you have
a tear in your eardrum that doesn’t heal naturally, your doctor might apply a special
paper patch to the tear. This patch will keep the hole closed while your
eardrum heals. If a patch doesn’t work, your doctor might surgically repair
your ear using a patch of your own skin.
A doctor should treat swimmer’s ear to prevent the infection from
spreading. Typically, your doctor will give you antibiotics in the form of eardrops to use for about a week. In severe
cases, oral antibiotics will also be necessary.
How can I prevent ear discharge?
To avoid ear infections, try to stay away from people who are
sick. Breastfeeding provides infants with protection from ear infections, since
they receive their mother’s antibodies in the milk. If you bottle-feed your
baby, the Mayo
Clinic advises trying to hold the infant in an upright position to prevent
Keep foreign objects out of your ears to avoid rupturing your
eardrum. If you know you’ll be in an area with excessive noise, bring ear plugs
or muffs to protect your eardrums.
You can prevent swimmer’s ear by making sure to dry your ears
after being in the water. Also, try to drain any water by turning your head to
the side. You can also use over-the-counter medicated eardrops after swimming to control and
alleviate swimmer’s ear.