What causes drainage from the ear and how to treat it?

Symptom Database

Drainage from the ear, also known as ear drainage, ear infection, ear fluid, or ear discharge, can be a concerning symptom that may indicate an underlying issue. It is important to understand the causes of ear drainage and how to treat it effectively. In this article, we will explore the various factors that can lead to ear drainage and provide valuable insights on managing this condition.

Understanding Ear Drainage

Ear drainage refers to the leakage of fluid or discharge from the ear. It can vary in consistency, color, and odor, depending on the underlying cause. Ear drainage can be a result of several factors, including:

  • Ear infections
  • Swimmer’s ear
  • Foreign objects in the ear
  • Perforated eardrum
  • Ear canal dermatitis
  • Cholesteatoma

Ear Infections

One of the most common causes of ear drainage is an ear infection. This occurs when bacteria or viruses enter the middle ear, leading to inflammation and the production of fluid or pus. Ear infections can be painful and may cause fever, hearing loss, and dizziness. Treatment for ear infections typically involves antibiotics and pain relievers prescribed by a healthcare professional.

Swimmer’s Ear

Swimmer’s ear, also known as otitis externa, is an infection of the outer ear canal. It often occurs due to excessive moisture in the ear, which creates an ideal environment for bacteria or fungi to grow. Swimmer’s ear can cause ear drainage, itching, redness, and discomfort. Treatment may involve antibiotic ear drops, pain relievers, and keeping the ear dry during the healing process.

Foreign Objects in the Ear

Inserting foreign objects into the ear, such as cotton swabs or small toys, can lead to ear drainage. These objects can cause irritation, injury, or infection in the ear canal, resulting in fluid or discharge. It is crucial to avoid inserting anything into the ear to prevent such complications. If a foreign object is present, it should be removed by a healthcare professional.

Perforated Eardrum

A perforated eardrum is a tear or hole in the thin membrane that separates the outer and middle ear. It can occur due to trauma, infection, or changes in pressure. A perforated eardrum can cause ear drainage, hearing loss, and discomfort. In most cases, the eardrum heals on its own within a few weeks. However, medical intervention may be necessary in severe cases.

Ear Canal Dermatitis

Ear canal dermatitis refers to inflammation or irritation of the skin lining the ear canal. It can be caused by allergies, eczema, or contact with irritants such as hair products or jewelry. Ear canal dermatitis can lead to itching, redness, and ear drainage. Treatment involves identifying and avoiding the triggers, using topical corticosteroids, and maintaining proper ear hygiene.


A cholesteatoma is an abnormal growth of skin cells in the middle ear. It can develop as a result of repeated ear infections or a perforated eardrum. Cholesteatomas can cause ear drainage, hearing loss, dizziness, and facial muscle weakness. Surgical removal is often necessary to treat this condition and prevent complications.

Treating Ear Drainage

The treatment for ear drainage depends on the underlying cause. It is essential to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate management. However, there are some general tips that can help alleviate symptoms and promote healing:

  • Keep the affected ear clean and dry.
  • Avoid inserting objects into the ear.
  • Apply warm compresses to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers as recommended.
  • Use prescribed antibiotic or antifungal ear drops as directed.
  • Follow any additional instructions provided by the healthcare professional.

It is important to note that not all cases of ear drainage can be cured. Some conditions may require ongoing management or surgical intervention. Seeking timely medical attention and adhering to the recommended treatment plan is crucial for a successful outcome.

In conclusion, ear drainage can be caused by various factors, including ear infections, swimmer’s ear, foreign objects, perforated eardrums, ear canal dermatitis, and cholesteatoma. Understanding the underlying cause is essential for effective treatment. If you or someone you know experiences ear drainage, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and appropriate management. By following the recommended treatment plan and taking necessary precautions, individuals can find relief from ear drainage and promote overall ear health.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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