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Ear Discharge - Possible Causes Behind It!

Written and reviewed by
Dr. Honey Gupta 86% (39 ratings)
ENT Specialist, Faridabad  •  13 years experience
Ear Discharge - Possible Causes Behind It!

Discharge from the ear is medically termed as otorrhea. This discharge can be white (clear), yellow, brown, bloody, or with pus (purulent). Also, it can be offensive (smelly) or non-offensive. Discharge can be due to the pathologies of the ear canal, middle ear, or, rarely, from inside the skull. There are many causes of ear discharge, some are:


  1. Earwax- Wax is a brown, sticky discharge from the ear. The wax formation is a normal process. It is a protective mechanism of the body. It protects the ear from dust, bacteria, viruses, or any foreign bodies entering inside. Sometimes excess of wax can be a problem. That’s why it should be removed regularly.
  2. Infection- It is one of the most common reasons for discharge from the ear. It occurs when the middle ear is infected with bacteria or viruses. This causes fluid to build up in the ear, which leads to ear discharge. Generally, the discharge is yellowish due to pus and offensive because of the infection.
  3. Swimmer’s ear- It is medically termed as otitis externa. It occurs when the ear canal is infected with bacteria or virus. Mostly, this condition is due to long hours of swimming; too much moisture in the ear can rupture the wall of the ear canal through which the infection enters in the ear canal.Also, this can be due to eczema or any foreign body in the ear which can rupture the wall.
  4. Trauma- This can be due to the cotton swab while cleansing your ear if you insert or push it too deep. Also, this can be due to altitude changes such as seen in scuba diving or while flying in the airplane. This can cause rupture of the eardrum leading to ear discharge.Acoustic trauma- This type of trauma occurs due to loud noises which rupture the eardrum and can cause discharge from the ear.
  5. Necrotizing or malignant otitis externa- This condition is very rare. This condition can occur as a complication of otitis externa, or in immunocompromised patients, or in those suffering from diabetes. This can cause damage to the cartilage and bones in the base of the skull which is responsible for the ear discharge. It can be clear fluid due to cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) which is present in the brain.
  6. Cholesteatoma- It’s a noncancerous growth of skin cells in the middle ear leading to discharge from the ear.
  7. Mastoiditis- It is due to infection of the mastoid bone which can cause discharge from the ear. Even this condition is very rarely seen.
  8. Fracture of the skull- Fracture in any of the bones in the skull can lead to discharge from the ear.
  9. Head injury- It’s an emergency. Bloody discharge from the ear can be present.

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