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Ear Discharge: Causes and Treatment

ear-dischargeEar discharge is common in healthy individuals since the ear produces earwax as a way to protect the inner portions of the ear from bacteria and infection. However, fluid draining from ears can also be a sign of an underlying condition, such as trauma or infection. If you are experiencing abnormal ear discharges, including a watery discharge from the ear, we will list some possible reasons why.

What is Ear Discharge?

Ear discharge is the fluid sticky, golden brown paste that comes out of the ear. The body naturally produces ear wax that prevents dirt and bacteria from getting inside the ear, and earwax does the job of trapping dirt and bacteria before they can make their way inside. Once ear wax starts to build up, the body expels the wax through the ear, and this is the discharge you see.

Normal ear wax does not have any foul odor and has a light golden brown color. The consistency can range from fluid to pasty or waxy. You can expect normal ear discharges of this kind after every few days.

Reasons for Abnormal Ear Discharges

There are times when ear discharges are accompanied by a foul smell, pain, numbness tingling, or a ringing sound. These could be symptoms of underlying conditions. The most common reasons for abnormal discharges include:

  • Ear infections
  • Trauma
  • Swimmer’s ear
  • Mastoiditis
  • Skull fracture

Discharges that have the following characteristics may also indicate a serious condition and need to be checked by a doctor as soon as possible:

  • Discharge that is foul smelling or bloody
  • Discharge that is present for more than 5 days
  • Discharge with severe ear pain
  • Discharge accompanied by swelling or redness

Infection often results to a discharge that is foul-smelling or one that has a yellow-green color. Infections occur when bacteria gain access to the inner ear. The presence of bacteria leads to inflammation which in turn leads to fluid buildup in the ear.

Trauma can cause abnormal ear discharges  as well. Trauma can result when you push a Q-tip inside too hard or when any foreign substance gets into the ear and causes undue pressure to the walls or any of the bones of the inner ear. A sudden increase in pressure similar to that felt if you are riding on an airplane at very high altitudes may cause your eardrum to rupture.

Watery Discharge From Ear

There multiple reasons why you may be experiencing a watery discharge from your ear. Common reasons could be from an infection, sinus related problem, a ruptured eardrum, or your body detoxing after changing your diet.

In addition to the reasons above, swimmer’s ear is another type of infection where contaminated water gets into the ear and causes an infection. Too much moisture in the ear promotes bacterial growth and can lead to damage to the ear canal in the long run.

Mastoiditis is an inflammation of the jaw near the ear. Inflammation of this part of the jaw can affect the ear, causing excessive fluid buildup and this results to a runny discharge of fluid.

Treatment Options

For milder ear problems doctors usually adopt a wait and see approach. Ear drops are prescribed to reduce swelling and inflammation brought by an ear infection or trauma. Most cases of abnormal fluid discharge can clear up without any form of treatment although conditions that are caused by trauma need to be attended by a doctor.

For excessive ear discharges caused by a perforation of the eardrum, the doctor may apply a paper patch to restore normal hearing and reduce the discharge. The patch keeps the eardrum closed as it heals. For severe cases, surgery may be done and a patch of skin may be surgically attached over the hole to cover it.

Swimmer’s ear and other ear infections will need a doctor’s attention. He may prescribe antibiotics to prevent the infection from spreading and patients may be advised to stay out of the water while treatment is going on.

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