Pus is usually associated with bacterial buildup, and if you notice pus or other drainage coming from your ears, then you should consult your doctor immediately, to prevent the symptoms from getting worse.
Discharge from the ear is most commonly ear wax, and pus drainage from the ear can be a sign of several conditions. It depends on what type or combination of fluid that is coming from the ear. i.e blood, clear, or milky white liquid.
Ear wax is yellow to orange-brown in color and is not considered a medical problem. However, other types of drainage, however, can indicate conditions that may require medical attention.
Ear pain and infections are common and can cause serious uneasiness. Pain is sometimes the only symptom of an ear infection, but a more serious condition of ear infection may be accompanied by pus or other drainages.
Types of Ear Discharge
- Pus or Cloudy Fluid: this is the most common type of ear discharge, where the drainage is from a torn eardrum. The eardrum ruptures in some bacterial ear infections.
- Ear Tube Fluid Release: Children with frequent ear infections may get ventilation tubes put in, and sometimes, these ear tubes get plugged up. Then normal fluids build up in the middle ear until the ear tube opens up again, resulting in some clear fluid drainage from the ear canal for some time.
- Earwax: this is light brown, dark brown, or orange-brown in color that can look like discharge if it gets wet.
- Blood: blood flow or discharge follows an injury to the ear. It could just be a minor scratch of the lining of the ear canal.
- Water: water or tears can get in the ear canal, and can be seen as a clear discharge when it flows back out.
- Swimmer’s Ear Discharge: this mainly occurs in swimmers and in the summertime, and early symptoms are an itchy ear canal. Later on, a whitish, watery discharge may follow.
- Ear Canal Foreign Body: Young children or adults may mistakenly put small objects in their ear canal, which can cause a low-grade infection and pus-colored discharge. Sometimes, the discharge may have streaks of blood if the object is sharp.
Causes Of Pus Discharge From The Ear
You may notice discharge from your ear if you have any of the following conditions:
- Ruptured eardrum
- Ear wax
- Swimmer’s ear
- Foreign objects
- Fungal infection
- Trauma (blood or cerebral spinal fluid)
- Less common causes for experiencing ear drainage include:
- Malignant otitis externa
The following are some of the potential causes of drainage or pus from your ear.
- Ear infection (acute otitis media): Often caused by a bacterial or viral infection affecting the middle portion of the ear. Common symptoms of an ear infection include pain, pus or drainage, difficulty hearing, loss of balance, and fever. Serious infection in the middle ear can cause the eardrum to tear open, causing bleeding and drainage to occur.
- Swimmer’s ear: this is a type of infection that affects the outer ear canal (otitis externa), and can happen when water becomes trapped in your ear, after swimming, allowing bacteria or fungus to grow. Symptoms are typically mild but can become severe if the infection goes untreated. Symptoms include itching in your ear, scaling and peeling of the outer ear, redness, swelling of the ear canal, pus or drainage, ear pain, muffled hearing, fever, and swollen lymph nodes
- Skin cyst: this is an abnormal, noncancerous growth that can develop in the middle portion of your ear behind your eardrum that may increase in size over time. If it increases in size, it can destroy bones in your middle ear and result in hearing loss, facial muscle paralysis, and dizziness. Other symptoms include pain or aching, foul-smelling drainage or pus, and pressure in the ear.
- Foreign object: Bloody ear drainage can be the result of a foreign object in the ear, which is fairly common in children, or as a result of a head injury. Anything foreign to the body that can get stuck in your ear can cause damage, pain, and drainage.
- Ruptured eardrum: A ruptured eardrum can be the result of pressure caused by fluid buildup in the middle ear from an infection, or from ear injury or trauma from a foreign body. Either way, it can result in fluid or pus draining from the ear. Symptoms associated with ruptured eardrum include:, sharp, sudden ear pain, earache, bleeding, ear buzzing, dizziness, hearing changes, and eye or sinus infections.
When to Call Doctor or Seek Care
Seek medical help if you notice the following symptoms either in yourself or your child:
- Pink or red swelling behind the ear
- Clear or bloody fluid following a head injury
- Bleeding from the ear canal
- Fever in persons less than 12 weeks old. Do not give your baby any fever medicine without due consultation.
- Fever over 104° F (40° C)
- Your child looks and acts very sick
Treatment of Ear Drainage
Treatment usually depends on the cause, and if you suspect that the ear drainage is not the result of an ear emergency, you may want to solve the problem on your own.
Do not try to blindly clean out your ear with cotton swabs or any other object, and do not wash out or place any medicine in your ear until you have seen a doctor. Also, do not try to shove gauze or other items into your ear to prevent the drainage, even when you feel like you should.
Wait it out to see if the drainage clears on its own, but in some cases, a doctor is your best option. Such cases include:
- Severe pain that won’t abate
- A high fever
- A significant amount of bright blood coming from the ear
- Drainage following a significant blow to the head
- Sudden hearing loss, and
- A sharp object that has caused bloody drainage
While minor ear infections can clear up on their own, more severe cases require antibiotics and pain medication Over-the-counter acetaminophen can be used to control pain and fever, and if the condition becomes recurrent, your doctor may recommend tympanostomy tubes (ear tubes).
This usually requires a surgical procedure that drains the fluid from the middle ear and inserts tiny tubes into the eardrum to help prevent the buildup of fluid and bacteria in the middle ear.
There are also certain medical conditions, such as cancer, that may cause bloody ear drainage, and people who are on blood-thinning medications, such as aspirin, may be more likely to have bloody ear drainage.
Treating a swimmer’s ear infection requires medicated ear drops, likewise other outer ear infections. Antibiotics or antifungal medication may also be used depending on the cause of your infection.
Your doctor may also recommend pain medication for temporary relief from pain, and it’s recommended that you do not soak your ear, swim, or use earplugs or earbud headphones
Skin cyst or Cholesteatomas don’t heal or go away on their own, as surgery is needed to remove them. Also, antibiotics are required to treat the infection and reduce inflammation.
In some cases of a foreign object in the ear, these objects can be removed at home if they’re easily seen near the outer opening of the ear.
If they’re trapped further along in the ear canal, seek immediate medical attention, since trying to pry these foreign objects out on your own may cause more damage.
A ruptured eardrum usually heals without medical treatment, but in some cases, your doctor may recommend surgery to repair the rupture if it doesn’t heal on its own.
Seeing fluid draining from your ear can be frightening, and most cases will not be an emergency. However, in almost all cases, it will be useful in following up with your doctor to ensure proper treatment.
Fortunately, most side effects of ear infection or ear drainage will not be permanent and will improve with time and proper treatment.