Ear discharge or otorrhea means fluid coming out of the ears. The most common cause of ear discharge is drainage of the ear wax which is a natural mechanism of our ear canal to get rid of foreign bodies, dust and microorganism. A ruptured ear drum or a canal infection can cause ear discharge. The discharge may be associated with ear pain, hearing loss and itching in the ears.
Causes of ear discharge:
From the ear canal:
- Fungal or bacterial infection
- Injury to ear canal
- Foreign body
- Swimmer’s ear
- Malignant otitis externa
From the middle ear (ruptured tympanic membrane):
- Fungal or bacterial infection (otitis media)
- Foreign body
- Mastoid bone infection
This can occur when you spend a long time in water. It can lead to increase in moisture inside the canal and, hence, can cause bacteria and fungus to grow.
Malignant Otitis Externa is an aggressive infection of the external ear canal which may further involve temporal bone and skull base. It is not a malignancy (cancer) but behaves like one as the spread is very fast to nearby vital structures. It is commonly seen in immuno-compromised or diabetic elderly patients. Patient will have unrelenting deep seated ear pain, purulent ear discharge with or without facial nerve weakness. Unless we give strong antibiotics immediately the patient may have very serious neurological complications.
When should I seek medical attention?
You should contact an ENT specialist you have an ear discharge. Wax may be the cause, which is harmless, but you may conclude something more sinister as just wax. The doctor will examine your ears using an otoscope and make a diagnosis. Sometimes examination under microscope or examination with otoendoscope is needed. You may need to get other investigations done like pure tone audiometry or tympanomatery, culture sensitivity, scans etc based on your symptoms. Antibiotics and ear drops may be started for you.
If you have an ear discharge and you are not sure what has to be done, contact us and we shall guide you. For simple wax we can suggest wax dissolution drops. Please instill the drops for a few days and then go to your ENT for wax removal. But, if the ear discharge is due to some middle ear issue associated with infection, we can give you some remedies and medicines which you can start immediately.
What to keep in mind?
When you have a discharging ear keep the following in mind-
- Do not let water enter the ear
- Do not put Q-tips or ear buds inside
- Just wipe out the discharge that comes out of the canal onto your pinna
- Do not instill wax dissolution drops without doctor’s advice
We find a lot of home remedies for ear discharge. Some suggest to use apple cider vinegar whereas others suggest use of herbal ear drops. However, our directors are of the opinion that you first get support from an ENT before you attempt these remedies. Because some of these can worsen the condition and may even cause permanent neural hearing loss.