Print Friendly and PDF
► SymptomsEar discharge

Ear discharge

Definition

Ear discharge is drainage of blood, ear wax, pus, or fluid from the ear.

Alternative Names

Drainage from the ear; Otorrhea; Ear bleeding; Bleeding from ear

Causes

Most of the time, any fluid leaking out of an ear is ear wax.

A ruptured eardrum can cause a white, slightly bloody, or yellow discharge from the ear. Dry crusted material on a child's pillow is often a sign of a ruptured eardrum. The eardrum may also bleed.

Causes of a ruptured eardrum include:

  • Foreign object in the ear canal
  • Injury from a blow to the head, foreign object, very loud noises, or sudden pressure changes (such as in airplanes)
  • Inserting cotton-tipped swabs or other small objects into the ear
  • Middle ear infection

Other causes of ear discharge include:

  • Eczema and other skin irritations in the ear canal
  • Swimmer's ear -- with symptoms such as itching, scaling, a red or moist ear canal, and pain that increases when you move the earlobe

Home Care

Caring for ear discharge at home depends on the cause.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if:

  • The discharge is white, yellow, clear, or bloody.
  • The discharge is the result of an injury.
  • The discharge has lasted more than 5 days.
  • There is severe pain.
  • The discharge is associated with other symptoms, such as fever or headache.
  • There is loss of hearing.
  • There is redness or swelling coming out of the ear canal.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

The health care provider will perform a physical exam and look inside the ears. You may be asked questions, such as:

  • When did the ear drainage begin?
  • What does it look like?
  • How long has it lasted?
  • Does it drain all the time or off-and-on?
  • What other symptoms do you have (for example, fever, ear pain, headache)?

The health care provider may take a sample of the ear drainage and send it to a lab for examination.

The health care provider may recommend anti-inflammatory or antibiotic medicines, which are placed in the ear. Antibiotics may be given by mouth if a ruptured eardrum from an ear infection is causing the discharge.

visHeader

References

Bauer CA, Jenkins HA. Otologic symptoms and syndromes. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2010:chap 156.

Guss J, Ruckenstein MJ. Infections of the external ear. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2010:chap 137.

House JC, Lee DJ. Topical therapies of external ear disorders. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2010:chap 138.

O'Handley JG, Tobin EJ, Shah AR. Otorhinolaryngology. In: Rakel RE, ed. Textbook of Family Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 19.


Back
To Top