Our ears are designed to secrete wax from time to time. Earwax is naturally produced oil from the ears that ensures that no dust particles or micro-organisms enter into it. Any fluid that seeps out of the ears is ear discharge which is described as otorrhea in medical terms. Ear infections can also discharge fluid from the ear. In rare cases eardrum can get ruptured leaking out fluid or even blood from the ear. Any kind of trauma or injury of the ear can cause ear discharge. Congestion of nasal passages and inflammation of adenoids can cause ear infection and discharge. Ear discharge can be treated after diagnosing the underlying cause.
Symptoms Of Ear Discharge :
Any fluid that leaks out from the ear is ear discharge. It can be either earwax or fluid due to infection or sometimes blood. The fluid discharged from the ear can be white, yellowish or grey in color. It can be of foul smell if it has developed due to bacterial infection. Ear discharge can be painful at some occasions. For children it can cause difficulty in sleeping and headache or discomfort. The infants would cry consistently if he/she has ear pain with discharge. In severe case of infection ear discharge is accompanied with fever. In adults it can cause reduced hearing.
Ear Discharge Causes :
- Often ear discharge can occur due to excess of earwax which needs no treatment.
- In some people ruptured eardrum can cause white yellowish discharge. Eardrum can get ruptured due to the presence of foreign objects inside, or due to sudden injury or blow to the head. Some adults would use cotton swabs for cleaning the ear which would go inside the ear canal leading to injury.
- Hearing very loud noises can affect the eardrum leading to ear discharge. People working in airplanes are prone to hear such sound.
- Swimmer’s ear (spending extended time in water) can cause ear discharge along with other symptoms like itching of ear and reddening of ears.
- Bacterial or viral infection can cause ear discharge. Actually the infection develops due to nasal congestion or due to cold or flu. Bacteria would enter into the ear canal through the throat or nasal passage causing ear infection.
- Any inflammation in the Eustachian tubes (small narrow tubing that runs from back of the throat to the ear canal) can produce moist ear discharge. Fluids get blocked in the middle ear leading to swelling of Eustachian tubes and discharge from the ears.
- Adenoids (pair of tiny pads found at the opening of Eustachian tube) can get inflamed due to the fluid collection in the Eustachian tubes leading to infection.
- Sudden increase in pressure can cause trauma to the inner ear leading to rupture of eardrum.
Who Are At Risk?
- Ear discharge can occur to any person irrespective of age and sex.
- Infants and children below 2 years are at high risk of ear infections due to weakened immune system.
- Babies that are bottle-fed are more likely to develop ear infection and discharge than breast-fed babies.
- Seasonal variation can also cause ear discharge.
- Seek medical advice if you have ear discharge for more than 2 days and are of foul smell in nature.
The doctor would use special lighted instrument called otoscope to have a closer look into the ears. She would make sure whether fluid has collected behind the eardrum using pneumatic otoscope. If she suspects serious problems in the ear, she may conduct tymphanometry or acoustic reflective test for measuring the eardrum movement.
Home Remedies :
Generally home remedies are not recommended for ear discharge that are severe and foul smelling. Placing warm compress on the infected ear can give quick relief from pain. You can take saline water in a bulb syringe. Now stand nearby the sink holding your head and the infected ear away. Now gently press the syringe bulb so that water gets into your ear with little force. This water would drain off the ear instantly washing any debris or deposits in the ear canal.
No medical treatment is needed for earwax discharge. This will resolve within few days. Your doctor would wait and watch the symptoms before starting any treatment. Over the counter painkillers like ibuprofen can be taken to get relief from any discomfort or pain. In case of ear infection your doctor would prescribe antibiotic eardrops for quick healing and give suitable painkillers for reducing ear pain.
For eardrum problems like a tear your doctor would allow some time for natural healing. She might apply special patching on the tear to keep the hole closed. In case the patch is not working for healing of tear surgical repair would be done for a tear in the eardrum. For swimmer’s ear the doctor would look into the problem and prescribe antibiotic eardrops. For severe cases oral antibiotics may also be required.
Ear Discharge Prevention Tips :
- Do not use ear-pins or any other objects for cleaning the ears.
- If you are using cotton pads while taking bath make sure that you are removing it. This can accidentally get into the ear canal causing more complications.
- Babies that are breastfeeding have better immunity and may not develop any ear infections than the ones that are bottle-fed. The infant should be placed in upright position while bottle feeding.
- Do not use any sharp instruments for scratching the ears since it can break or tear the eardrum.
- Always use muffs when you are traveling in air as a means of protecting your eardrum.
- Ensure that you are drying your ear thoroughly after taking bath or using swimming pool. If you are getting swimmer’s ear often you can use eardrops shortly after swimming to prevent any infection.
- Avoid smoking since smoke can induce ear infection.