Ear Drainage: Causes and Treatments

Learn what it means when fluid drains from your ear
Last update on May, 28, 2024

Have you ever experienced fluid draining from your ear?

The fluid may be clear, yellow, green, or even red, causing you to become concerned that a serious health issue is the cause.

Otorrhea, more commonly referred to as ear drainage, is the medical term for when a person has fluid draining from their ear. It's an unpleasant experience and one you should not ignore.

In this article, we'll explore the common causes of ear drainage and how to take steps to find relief.

What Causes Drainage from the Ear?

It may surprise you that ear drainage is fairly common in children and adults. It can occur for several reasons, both benign and severe.

Ear Infections

Ruptured Eardrum

Swimmer's Ear

Foreign Objects

Ear Infections

Ear Infections

A middle ear infection, or otitis media, is an inflammation or infection of the middle ear. It occurs when fluid builds up behind the eardrum and becomes infected by bacteria or viruses. The condition occurs most frequently in children but can also affect adults.

Ear infections can be painful due to the buildup of pressure from the fluid in the ear. Eventually, the fluid may start to drain from the ear.

man with ear pain

Ruptured Eardrum

Ruptured Eardrum

A ruptured eardrum occurs when a hole or tear forms in the thin membrane separating the outer and middle ear. It causes pain, drainage from the ear, and sometimes, hearing loss. Ruptured eardrums may result from trauma, a middle ear infection, or changes in air pressure.
man with pain in ear

Swimmer's Ear

Swimmer's Ear

Prolonged exposure to water in the ear canal can lead to swimmer's ear, an infection of the outer ear characterized by redness, swelling, and drainage of clear fluid.
senior woman swimming

Foreign Objects

Foreign Objects

The presence of foreign objects in the ear can cause irritation, infection, and ear drainage. For example, using Q-Tips® to clean your ears can cause them to bleed or rupture your eardrums, so you'll want to avoid inserting anything into your ear.
woman using qtip

Different Colors of Ear Drainage & What They Mean

Our bodies have a way of telling us when something is not quite right. For example, the colors of ear drainage can provide valuable insights into its underlying cause.

Clear Fluid

Clear Fluid: Clear drainage from the ear is typically thin and watery. If you just had a shower or went swimming, you may experience water exiting your ears, which is usually nothing to worry about. If clear fluid is draining from your ear after a skull fracture or injury, it may be a sign of a more severe condition requiring immediate medical attention. 

Yellow Fluid

Yellow Fluid: Yellow drainage from the ear is often associated with ear wax buildup. If mixed with blood, it may indicate a ruptured eardrum; if you notice pus, it is likely a sign of an infection.

Green Fluid

Green Fluid: The color green may also indicate an infection, particularly if a foul smell accompanies it.

Red Fluid

Red Fluid: Red drainage indicates the presence of blood from a ruptured eardrum, trauma, or an ear infection. If you clean your ears with Q-Tips® or other foreign objects, you may scratch or damage the ear canal, leading to a severe infection.

Texture of Ear Drainage

In addition to observing colors, pay attention to the consistency and texture of your ear drainage, as there are different types of otorrhea.

  • Thin and watery
  • Thick and pus-like
  • Bloody or blood-tinged
  • Waxy with odor

Ear Leaking Clear Fluid with No Pain?

If you recently took a shower or went swimming, water may be draining from your ear, which is not a cause for concern. However, if water becomes trapped, it can lead to an outer ear infection, so keep an eye on your symptoms and look for signs of swelling or redness.

If you develop these symptoms, contact your clinician right away.

ear check

Preventing Ear Drainage

Even though ear drainage isn't a common occurrence, it is difficult to completely avoid it. Meet regularly with a hearing care provider to check your hearing health.

When to Seek Medical Attention for Ear Drainage

Contact your clinician if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Pain or discomfort
  • Hearing loss
  • Foul odor from the ear
  • Swelling or redness around the ear
  • Fever or dizziness
  • Persistent or worsening ear drainage

FAQs about Ear Drainage

Below, we've compiled a few helpful answers to your top questions about fluid leaking from your ear.

Q: Can ear drainage resolve on its own?

A: In some cases, mild ear drainage from bathing or swimming may resolve on its own. If drainage is accompanied by pain, it worsens, or you experience hearing loss, seek medical attention for proper evaluation and treatment.

Q: Is it safe to use ear drops for ear drainage?

A: The use of ear drops should always be guided by a hearing care provider, as inappropriate use may make certain conditions worse.

Q: How to drain ear fluid at home?

A: To safely drain ear fluid at home, try the following at home remedies:

Use a warm compress: Applying a warm, damp cloth to the affected ear can help alleviate discomfort and promote drainage.

Keep your head elevated: Keeping your head propped up with pillows while resting can aid in fluid drainage. You can also tilt your head in the direction where you're experiencing fluid buildup and gently shake your head to help remove the fluid.

Yawning or chewing gum: Movements like yawning or chewing gum can help open up the eustachian tubes, which are responsible for regulating pressure in the middle ear. When the eustachian tubes open, they can help equalize the pressure and facilitate drainage, which may provide relief from discomfort in the ears.:

Worried about fluid drainage or ear infection?

Working with an experienced local hearing care provider will help diagnose and find best treatment.

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