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  • Ear – Discharge

    Definition

    • Drainage of substances/liquids with different colors and consistency from the ear canal
    • Drainage through an ear tube is included

    Causes

    • Discharge that is normal: earwax or water. Earwax is light brown, dark brown, or orange brown in color.
    • Discharge that isn’t normal: cloudy fluid or pus. Main cause is an ear infection. This can cause drainage from a torn eardrum or through a ventilation tube.

    When to Call Us for Ear – Discharge

    Call Us Now (night or day) If:

    • Your child looks or acts very sick
    • Pink or red swelling behind the ear
    • Clear or bloody fluid after a head injury
    • Bleeding from the ear canal (Exception: few drops and after an ear exam)
    • Age under 12 weeks old with fever. (Caution: Do NOT give your baby any fever medicine before being seen.)
    • Fever over 104° F (40° C)
    • You think your child needs to be seen urgently

    Call Us Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If:

    • You think your child needs to be seen, but not urgently
    • Age less than 6 months old
    • Ear pain or crying like in pain
    • Discharge is yellow or green, cloudy white or smells bad
    • Clear drainage (not from a head injury) lasts more than 24 hours

    Call Us During Weekday Office Hours If:

    • You have other questions or concerns

    Parent Care at Home If:

    • Normal earwax or other harmless discharge

    Care Advice for Ear – Discharge

    Earwax:

    • Ear wax protects the lining of the ear canal and has germ-killing properties.
    • If the earwax is removed, the ear canals become itchy.
    • Do not use cotton swabs (Q-tips) in your child’s ear.
    • Call Your Doctor If: Begins to look like pus (yellow or green discharge).

    Clear Discharge (without head trauma):

    • Most likely, this is from tears or water that entered the ear canal. This can happen during a bath, shower, swimming or water fight.
    • Don’t overlook eardrops your child or someone else used without telling you.
    • In children with ventilation tubes, some clear or slightly cloudy fluid can occur. This happens when a tube blockage opens up and drains.
    • Call Your Doctor If: Clear drainage lasts for more than 24 hours.

    Blood After Ear Exam:

    • Sometimes, ear wax needs to be removed by your doctor to see the eardrum. If ear wax was removed, it can cause a small scratch inside the ear canal. This happens about 10% of the time. The scratch oozes 1 or 2 drops of blood and then clots.
    • This should heal up in a few days.
    • It shouldn’t affect the hearing.
    • Don’t put anything in the ear canal. This may start the bleeding again.
    • Call Your Doctor If: Bleeding starts again.

    Ear Infection:

    • Cloudy fluid or pus draining from the ear canal usually means there’s an ear infection.
    • The pus drains because there’s a small tear in the eardrum.
    • To help with the pain, give acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen. Use as needed. See Dose Table.
    • See EARACHE for more advice.
    • Call Your Doctor If: Your child becomes worse.

    Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

    Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.
    Copyright 1994-2013 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

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