Ear discharge is drainage of blood, ear wax, pus, or fluid from the ear.
Drainage from the ear; Otorrhea; Ear bleeding; Bleeding from ear
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
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.
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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.
Reviewed By: Ashutosh Kacker, MD, BS, Professor of Clinical Otolaryngology, Weill Cornell Medical College, and Attending Otolaryngologist, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.