Ear Discharge: Causes, Treatment and Prevention

Ear discharge (also known as otorrhea) refers to a condition in which a liquid like material (serous / serosanguinous) comes out of the ear. 

This discharge is mostly due to earwax. It is an oil that is naturally produced by the body. Earwax ensures that dust or any other foreign impurities do not enter your ear. 

There are other conditions as well, such as perforated eardrums that can lead to blood or other fluid drains from the ear. If left untreated the infection can spread to the brain & other vital systems. 

This type of discharge is an indication that your ear has been damaged or infected and needs medical attention / surgical attention. 

There must be a connection for drainage from the middle ear into the ear canal to occur. It can be a result due to a perforation in the eardrum.  

In this blog post, we aim to make you understand various aspects related to ear discharge and how can you prevent this ailment.


When to seek medical help? 

If you notice that your ear discharge is white, yellow, bloody, or the fluid is draining for 5 days, then you must consult a doctor. 

Ear discharge may sometimes occur with other symptoms (like fever). Make sure you convey all the accompanying symptoms to your doctor. 

Similarly, if you experience severe pain, loss of hearing, swollen ear, etc., then you pay a visit to your doctor. 

If you have suffered an injury that has led to discharge, then that’s also an obvious reason to see your doctor.



Here are some of the possible causes of drainage from your ear.

Common causes of ear discharge include:

1. Chronic otitis media (with perforation of the eardrum, cholesteatoma, or both
2. Acute (sudden and severe) middle ear infection (otitis media) with perforation of the eardrum
3. External ear infection (otitis externa)


People suffering from otitis media (usually children), get their eardrums ruptured, releasing the fluid collected behind the eardrum. 

While the hole in the eardrum usually gets healed, a small perforation sometimes remains. 

The presence of a perforation also augments the risk of chronic middle ear infections, which can cause ear discharge.


Rare, but severe causes of ear discharge include:
1.Necrotizing external otitis
2. Cancer of the ear canal
3. Fracture in the base of the skull
4. Cholesteatoma (a noncancerous growth of white skin like material in the middle ear)

The ear canal passes via the base of the skull. If the fracture is in the base of the skull, blood and/or cerebrospinal fluid may drain from the ear.


Warning signs

For people having ear discharge, here are some certain symptoms that are a cause for concern:

1. Recent major head injury
2. Hearing issue in the affected ear
4. Swelling of the ear or area around the ear
5. Diabetes or a compromised immune system
6. Neurologic symptoms such as vertigo or difficulty in seeing, speaking, swallowing, talking
7. High fever with pain in the ear which is not responding to medical treatment.



An otoscope, which is a lighted microscope with 3 times magnification, is used by a doctor to examine the ear and try to determine the underlying cause of the drainage. 

The doctor might also use a pneumatic otoscope that produces a puff of air to display how the eardrum moves in response to pressure. This, in turn, helps to determine whether there is a build-up of fluid behind the eardrum.

Furthermore, a test called “tympanometry” can assist doctors to observe the condition of the middle ear. 

To perform this test, the doctor inserts a probe into the ear and examine how the middle ear responds to different pressure levels.

During an ear examination, a doctor might also conduct a hearing test or use a tuning fork to test different hearing levels.

Surgical treatment for ear discharge includes Tympanoplasty, Mastoidectomy (if conservative management fails). 


Treatment solutions

Treatment for ear discharge is always directed at the cause. People having a large perforation in their eardrums are recommended to keep water out of the ear. 

Doctors mostly advise antibiotics for different types of infection, which people can take by mouth or as ear drops, based on the location of the infection in the ear. 

To reduce the ear pain, you can use a warm compress on the ear or take pain relievers. 

Perforated eardrum generally heals without treatment in a few weeks. The healing process can be aided and the infection can be prevented by keeping the ear dry and protecting it from noises or any other physical shocks.

However, if the eardrum did not heal on its own, then surgery may be needed to place a patch of new skin over the perforated area. 

The combination of decongestants and an antihistamine will help lessen congestion. If this treatment is not successful, the doctor will place an auditory tube through the middle ear to let fluids discharge normally.


How to prevent Ear discharge? 

While it is not that easy to prevent all types of ear discharge, several ways can help you avoid ear damage. These tips are: 

1. Don’t insert any foreign objects like pens, hairpins, cotton swabs, etc. into the ear.
2. Always dry your ears thoroughly after bathing or swimming.
3. Let water drain from the ears completely after bathing or swimming by tilting the head on both sides.
4. Avoid pressure damage, especially when driving or flying.
5. Wear earplugs to soften loud noises, like in the case of heavy machinery or large speakers.
6.Use ear drops to help clean your ears regularly.


Final words

There are several reasons for ear drainage, including a ruptured eardrum, an ear infection, or an ear tube that causes fluid to drain.

Ear discharge shouldn’t be overlooked. The appearance of any liquid or pus may be an indication of an ear infection or any other condition that must be diagnosed by your doctor. 

If your eardrum has not healed even in a few weeks, then you need to consult a healthcare provider to repair your eardrum. 

If possible, you would discuss this with an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT). To book an appointment, click here.



Though all attempts are made to provide correct information on the subject, inadvertent & typographical errors arising out of manual intervention cannot be ruled out. It is requested to bring any such discrepancies to the notice of the blogger for correction.