Ear discharge, also called otorrhea, is the drainage of blood, ear wax, pus, or fluid from the ear. The below article details the same.
Ear discharge is also known as otorrhea. It refers to drainage of blood, ear wax, pus, or fluid from the ear. Most of the time, ear wax is discharged from the ear. Ear wax is a yellow to orange-brown-colored naturally produced oil in the body. It acts as a barrier and ensures that dust, bacteria, and other foreign bodies do not enter the ear. Ear drainage can be a sign of certain health conditions, depending on what type of fluid is coming from the ear. For example, some conditions, such as a ruptured eardrum, can cause blood or other fluids to drain from the ear. This kind of discharge signifies that the ear has been injured or infected and requires medical assistance.
Generally, the fluid leaking from an ear is ear wax, making its way out of the body. A ruptured eardrum can cause white, bloody, or yellow fluid drainage.
Causes of a ruptured eardrum include:
Foreign objects in the ear canal.
Injury or trauma from a blow to the head, loud noises, or sudden pressure changes (such as in airplanes).
Insertion of earbuds or other small objects into the ear.
Other less common causes of ear discharge include:
Eczema and other skin conditions in the ear canal.
Swimmer's Ear - It causes itching, scaling, a red or moist ear canal, and pain that increases when the earlobe is moved.
Malignant Otitis Externa - Complication of swimmer's ear infection.
Because these ear discharge causes are rare, they are less likely to be a cause for concern. However, a healthcare provider can decide if the ear discharge is linked to one of these issues.
The possible complications of ear discharge include:
A doctor often uses an otoscope during an ear examination. An otoscope is a lighted microscope to examine the ear and identify the drainage's underlying cause. The doctor can use a pneumatic otoscope that produces an air puff to show how the eardrum moves in response to pressure. In addition, doing so indicates whether there is an accumulation of fluid behind the eardrum. Another test called tympanometry can help doctors examine the health of the middle ear. This test involves inserting a probe into the ear and evaluating how the middle ear responds to different pressure levels. Finally, during an ear examination, the doctors may perform a hearing test or use a tuning fork to test hearing levels.
Treatment of the ear discharge depends on its cause. In some cases, the condition does not need medical treatment.
Signs of an ear infection often clear up within one or two weeks without any treatment. However, over-the-counter Acetaminophen may be needed to control pain and fever.
If a tear in the eardrum does not heal naturally, the doctor may apply a special paper patch to the tear to keep the hole closed while the eardrum heals. If the paper patch does not work, the doctor may surgically repair the ear using a skin patch.
The medical professional may prescribe antibiotic ear drops if the child is under six months old or has a fever over 102.2°F.
In a swimmer's ear, a doctor may prescribe the antibiotic ear drops for about a week to prevent the infection from spreading. In severe cases, oral antibiotics may be necessary.
Caring for ear discharge at home includes:
Avoid cleaning out your ear with cotton swabs or any other object.
Avoid washing the ear or putting medicine in it without seeing a healthcare provider.
Avoid shoving gauze or other items into the ear to prevent drainage.
To avoid ear infections, the following tips may help:
Keep the ear clean and dry.
Do not insert earbuds or other things into the ear canal to avoid rupturing the eardrum.
Avoid forceful blowing and sneezing of the nose.
Breastfeeding may protect infants from ear infections since they receive their mother's antibodies in their milk. To bottle-feed a baby, mothers should try holding the infant upright rather than letting them drink lying down.
Always use ear plugs or muffs to protect the eardrums from noise.
Swimmer's ear can be prevented by drying ears after being in the water. Also, drain any water by turning the head to one side and then the other. Use over-the-counter medicated ear drops after swimming to control and alleviate the swimmer's ear.
Use earplugs while swimming to keep water out and prevent infection.
One may feel like "wait it out" to see if the drainage clears on its own. However, sometimes, seeing a healthcare provider is the best option. Such cases include:
The discharge is white, yellow, clear, or slightly bloody.
The ear is swollen or red.
An injury causes the discharge.
The discharge lasts for more than five days.
There is severe pain.
The discharge is accompanied by other symptoms, such as a high fever or headache.
There is sudden hearing loss.
Facial weakness or asymmetry.
Bloody drainage from a sharp object.
Fluid drains from the ear for several reasons, and ear wax is the most common type of drainage. Ear wax does not cause problems unless there is a buildup or the ear produces too much wax. In other cases, fluid leaking from the ear may be a sign of a severe medical issue that may need medical attention. Therefore, any injury-related ear drainage should be considered a medical emergency. Fortunately, apart from traumatic injury, side effects like tinnitus or hearing loss are temporary and improve with time and proper care.
Last reviewed at:
29 Jul 2022 - 4 min read
Query: Hello doctor, I am having dizziness and fainting-like sensations along with intense itching in both the ears. I had my husband help me take photos with our otoscope I purchased online. The pictures with redness on them are my right ear, and the pictures without the redness and the yellow tube are my... Read Full »
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