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Ear discharges or bleeding

Overview Treatment
Alternative Names:
Drainage from the ear; Otorrhea
Home Care:

To be safe, never put anything in the ear smaller than the tip of your little finger.

EAR INFECTIONS

Treat inflammation or infection as advised by your health care provider. Often, local treatment with ear drops is recommended.

EAR WAX

A gentle, warm water flush using a syringe (available at the drug store) can be helpful to remove packed-down ear wax. Do not attempt to remove impacted ear wax in very young children. If black and impacted ear wax can be easily seen and retrieved in older children, do so carefully. NEVER use sharp objects to attempt to remove wax.

INJURY

Seek medical help for injury from a foreign object, noises or pressure changes, head injury, or a suspected clotting or bleeding problem.

SWIMMER'S EAR

For swimmer's ear (unless the eardrum is perforated):

  • tilt the head sideways, with the water-filled ear up.
  • pull the ear upward and backward.
  • carefully squeeze into the ear a medicine-dropper full of rubbing alcohol, or a mix of half rubbing alcohol and half white vinegar. This mixture will dry out the ear, and kill any bacteria or fungus.
  • wiggle the ear to move the solution all the way down.
  • then, retilt the head so that the affected ear is now down, and let the fluids drain out.

Putting a little mineral oil or baby oil in each ear before swimming may help prevent the problem.

Call your health care provider if:
  • The discharge is white, yellow, 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.
What to expect at your health care provider's office:
The health care provider will perform a physical examination and ask
medical history questions, such as:
  • Time pattern
    • When did it begin?
    • How long has the ear been draining?
    • Does it drain all the time or off-and-on?
  • Quality
    • Is the drainage clear?
    • Is the drainage bloody?
    • Does the drainage look like pus?
  • Other

The physical examination will include a detailed examination of the ears. Diagnostic tests that may be performed include a culture (and cytology or cell studies) testing of drainage.

TREATMENT

Corticosteroid and antibiotic preparations that are placed in the ear canal may be prescribed. Oral antibiotics will usually be given if a ruptured eardrum is causing the discharge.

If a diagnosis was made by your health care provider related to ear drainage, you may want to note that diagnosis in your personal medical record.

Ear anatomy
Ear anatomy
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Eardrum repair - series
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