What is Ear Discharge?
Ear discharge, also known as otorrhea, is a fluid that comes out of the ear.
Most of the time the discharge is the ear wax that is oil, produced in the ear to make sure that dust, bacteria, and other foreign bodies do not get into the ear.
A ruptured eardrum can cause the blood or fluids to drain from the ear. This discharge is a sign that the ear has some problem which requires medical attention.
Causes of Ear Discharge
There can be infection or injury which would lead to discharge from the ear other than ear wax.
A few of the conditions that can cause ear discharge include:
Middle Ear Infection
Middle ear infection or otitis media is the most common cause of ear discharge. It occurs due to bacterial or viral infection of the middle ear.
The infection of the middle ear leads to fluid build-up behind the eardrum. Excess fluid perforates through the eardrum and leads to ear discharge.
Trauma can occur if while cleaning the ear canal with an ear bud, you push it deep or while flying in the airplane or scuba diving you injure your ear. These conditions can also lead to rupture or tear of the eardrum.
Acoustic trauma is the damage to the eardrum from extremely loud music.
When you spend long time in the water, it leads to a condition known as swimmers ear or otitis externa. It occurs because of the infection of the ear canal with bacteria or fungus.
Excess moisture can break down the skin on the walls of the ear canal and this allows the bacteria and fungus to grow in it.
Malignant Otitis Externa
This is a less common condition and is a complication of a swimmer’s ear that causes damage to the cartilage and bone in the base of the skull.
Break in the bones in the skull can causes discharge from the ear. This is also a rare condition.
This is the infection of mastoid bone present behind the ear. Though rare but infection of this bone can lead to discharge from the ear, if:
- The discharge from the ear is white, yellow or bloody, and lasts for more than five days
- There is a fever along with discharge
- Redness, pain, swelling or loss of hearing
- Injury is the cause of discharge
In all the above condition a doctor should be consulted
Treatment Options For Ear Discharge
- The treatment is decided depending on the cause of the discharge.
- The doctor may even take the sample of ear drainage and send it for laboratory analysis.
- In many cases, no treatment is required. For mild ear pain in children, often a wait and see approach is recommended for 48 hours (1). But it should be accompanied with a close follow-up.
- The symptoms of infection start subsiding within the first week or two without any treatment. Painkiller is given to deal with pain and discomfort. Antibiotics are given if there is a fever along with pain and discharge.
- The cases of trauma do not require any treatment. If the ruptured eardrum doesn’t heal on its own, the doctor applies a patch that keeps the hole closed till the eardrum heals.
- Swimmers ear is treated using antibiotic ear drops and oral antibiotics to prevent the infection from spreading.
Preventing Ear Discharge
- Staying away from sick people is the best way to prevent ear infection.
- Breastfeeding provides protection to infants from an ear infection, as they receive antibodies from the milk. If bottle-feeding the baby, hold the baby in an upright position rather than letting them lying down while drinking milk.
- Avoid putting any rare object inside the ears as there are chances of rupturing the eardrum with it.
- If in a place with excessive noise use earplugs to protect the eardrums.
- Swimmer ear can be prevented if you drain the ear after being in the water. Also you can use over-the-counter ear drops to prevent infection from building up.