Ear discharge (otorrhea) is drainage from the ear. This may be watery, bloody, or thick and whitish, like pus. Ear discharge can be persistent or intermittent, and many sufferers find it socially embarrassing. However, with the proper treatment, otorrhea is easily cleared up.

Boots Hearingcare looks at some of the finer points surrounding ear discharge and how to get rid of it…

What is ear discharge?

Ear discharge affects both children and adults. It’s crucial to remember that different types of ear discharge often indicate different causes. Ultimately, it’s worth getting clued up on them all to know what to look out for and what you might encounter while suffering from otorrhea.
The most common types of ear discharge include:
  • Wax
  • Pus
  • Cloudy fluid
  • Blood
  • Water
  • Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)
  • Cholesteatoma
A lot of the time, ear discharge signals infection or damage to the ear itself. If your ear discharge has come on following a head injury, you should seek emergency medical attention right away.

Otorrhea symptoms

Along with drainage from the ear, people with otorrhea tend to experience a few accompanying symptoms, depending on the underlying cause. These include:
  • Ear pain or discomfort
  • Fullness or pressure in the affected ear
  • Partial hearing loss in the affected ear
  • Dizziness or feeling unsteady on foot
  • High temperature or fever
If you notice any of the above signs, as well as leakage, please see a medical professional to determine the root cause of your ear discharge.

Causes of ear discharge

In most cases, ear discharge is simply earwax making its way out of your body. This is natural and nothing to worry about. However, infection or trauma to the ears can also produce discharge.
Overall, the most common causes of ear discharge are: You’re more likely to develop ear discharge if you swim regularly, are prone to ear infections, have recently had a cold or the flu, or are diabetic. Feel at risk of ear discharge? Speak to your GP about preventative treatments.

Treatment of ear discharge

Treatment of your ear discharge will depend on its cause. You may even find that your condition won’t need medical treatment at all.
Sometimes, however, more serious instances of otorrhea require a stronger course of action, such as:
  • Antibiotics or steroids
  • Eardrops or tablets to treat infection
  • A warm compress (applying to the affected ear can provide much-needed pain relief)
  • Onward referral to a specialist, who will determine the need for further tests and/or treatment
Please refrain from trying to clean out the discharge yourself using cotton buds or anything similar, and bear in mind that surgery may be an option if the ear discharge is found to stem from a particularly nasty problem with your eardrum.

Frequently asked questions

How do you prevent otorrhea?
Ear discharge isn’t always preventable, but you can reduce your chances of developing it by not putting anything deep in your ears, wearing ear plugs, and towel drying after a shower.
What is chronic otorrhea?
When ear discharge lasts for longer than six weeks, this is classed as chronic otorrhea. Chronic otorrhea is more common in children but can affect adults, and you’ll often find the root cause is an eardrum problem.
Is otorrhea dangerous?
As with any hearing health condition, otorrhea can be dangerous if left unchecked for too long. The discharge itself may be masking a more serious issue, so always have your symptoms investigated by a trusted medical practitioner as early as possible.

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