DISCHARGING EARS: Understanding Underlying Causes, and Treatment



Ear discharge in medical language is known as otorrhea.

Otorrhoea means any fluid that comes from the ear. It’s a common condition that can affect people of all ages.

There are many different causes of ear discharge including ear infections, injuries, and allergies. In most cases, ear discharge is treatable.

In this blog, we will discuss the following topics —

  • Types of ear discharge,
  • The causes of ear discharge, and
  • Ear discharge treatment.

What Is Ear Discharge or What is Otorrhea?

Ear discharge also known as ear drainage is any fluid or liquid coming out of the ear.

The discharge may be watery, bloody, or thick and whitish-like pus. Depending on the cause of the discharge, it may be associated with ear pain, fever, itching, vertigo, ringing in the ear, and/or hearing loss.

What Are the Causes of Ear Discharge?

There are many causes of ear drainage. In most cases, the brown discharge from your ear is simply ear wax making its way out of your body, this is natural.

The other causes of ear discharge are:

1) Middle ear infection

2) Ruptured eardrum

3) Swimmer’s ear

4) Fungal yeast infections of the ear canal

5) Accidents or trauma

6) Eczema

7) A foreign object stuck in the ear canal 

 The less common causes of ear discharge are:

1) Cholesteatoma – An abnormal, noncancerous skin growth or a cyst behind the eardrum.

2) Malignant Otitis Externa – A severe infection of the cartilage and bones in the base of the skull

3) Fracture at the base of your skull

4) Mastoiditis – An infection of the mastoid bone in the inner ear.

5) Cancer of the ear canal.

6) Inflamed adenoids – If the adenoids are inflamed, they can trap fluid in the middle ear.

What Are The Types of Ear Discharge?

 The different types of ear discharge are:

  • Purulent discharge (pus coming out of the ear)
  • Serous discharge (the transparent or clear fluid that is extravasated from the skin or the hair follicles of the ear canal due to infection or eczema etc.)
  • Bloody discharge (blood mixed reddish colored discharge from the ear)
  • Mucoid discharge (thick discharge from the ear containing mucus)
  • Clear discharge (thin and watery clear fluid leaking from the ear, mostly CSF i.e.cerebrospinal fluid, in a condition known as CSF otorrhoea)

Evaluation of Ear Discharge

The following information can help people with ear discharge decide when a doctor’s evaluation is needed and help them know what to expect during the evaluation.

Warning signs

In people with ear discharge, certain symptoms and characteristics are cause for concern:

  • Recent major head injury
  • Any neurologic symptoms (such as vertigo or difficulty seeing, speaking, swallowing, and/or talking)
  • Hearing loss in the affected ear
  • Fever
  • Redness and/or swelling of the ear or area around the ear
  • Diabetes or a compromised immune system

When to see a doctor

People with warning signs should see a doctor right away. People without warning signs should see a doctor as soon as possible and avoid getting water in the ear until it can be evaluated.

Ear discharge is a symptom of several different conditions, both benign and serious. Prompt diagnosis is important.

Ear Infection Discharge

In the case of a middle ear infection or otitis media, fluid builds up in the middle ear. A hole in the eardrum can be the cause of ear infection discharge. The ear infection discharge color can be a good indication of the severity of the infection.

The ear infection discharge color can vary from clear liquid coming out of the ear or yellow discharge from the ear to green or brown discharge from the ear.

A ruptured eardrum can cause mucoid discharge from the ear, and sometimes a slightly bloody or yellow discharge from the ear.

What Causes Smelly Discharge From The Ear?

Smelly ear discharge or foul-smelling ear discharge indicates severe ear infection. The reason for the foul smell is that the ear infection is caused by anaerobic bacteria. This type of bacteria does not require oxygen to survive and results in foul-smelling ear discharge.

If your ear produces excess earwax, it accumulates in the ear canal. Dead skin and small insects can get caught in the earwax; this can result in smelly discharge from the ear.

Cholesteatoma often results in smelly ear discharge. Cholesteatoma causes recurring foul-smelling watery discharge from the ear, which indicates bone destruction

Treatment For Ear Discharge

Treatment of ear discharge is directed at the cause. Some infections are treated with ANTIBIOTICS given by mouth or as EARDROPS depending on the location of the infection in the ear.

Sometimes a piece of gauze (called a wick) is placed to allow antibiotics to get into a very swollen ear canal (in cases of severe otitis externa).

People who have a large perforated eardrum are advised to KEEP WATER OUT OF EAR. People can keep water out of the ear while showering or washing their hair by coating a cotton ball with petroleum jelly and placing it at the opening of the ear canal.

Patients can also make plugs out of silicone and place them in the canal. Such plugs are carefully sized and shaped so that they do not get lodged deep in the ear canal and cannot be removed.

A ruptured or small perforation in the eardrum will often heal within a few weeks to 2 months. People can help the healing process and prevent infections by keeping their ear dry and protecting it from loud noises and physical knocks.



This blog including information, content, references, and opinions is for informational purposes only.

The Author does not provide any medical advice on this platform.

Viewing, accessing, or reading this blog does not establish any doctor-patient relationship.

The information provided in this blog does not replace the services and opinions of a qualified medical professional who examines you and then prescribes medicines.

And if you have any questions of medical nature, please refer to your doctor or the qualified medical personnel for evaluation and management at a clinic/hospital near you.

The content provided in this blog represents the Author’s own interpretation of research articles.

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