Discharge from Ear: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Updated in June 2023

Discharge from the ear is usually caused by an accumulation of fluid, especially in babies under 2. In adults, it it usually the result of a cold, sinusitis, or allergic rhinitis.

Discharge from the ear can causing hearing loss, which can affect communication and language development in children. Adults will typically experience hearing loss, as well as muffled hearing and cracking noises in the ear.

If you think you may have discharge in the ear, you should consult a family doctor, ENT specialist or a pediatrician (for children).

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Common symptoms

Symptoms associated with discharge from the ear include: 

  • The sensation of a plugged ear
  • Pain or discomfort in the ar
  • Difficulty hearing
  • Whistling or cracking sounds in the ear 

Other symptoms that may emerge include loss of appetite, vomiting, fever and the release of a yellow or white fluid from the ear. In children, it can lead to speech delays if left untreated for long periods of time. 

If you suspect you may have discharge in the ear, you should consult an ENT specialist, family doctor or pediatrician as appropriate. To confirm a diagnosis, the doctor will evaluate the present symptoms and assess the discharge from the ear, which can be observed through an otoscope. The doctor can also perform a tympanic membrane vibration test, as a lower vibration is usually associated with discharge in the ear. 

Main causes

The most common causes of discharge in the ear include: 

  • Viral or bacterial infection, leading to inflammation in the ear and the production of discharge 
  • Frequents colds and flus 
  • Allergic rhinitis
  • Sinusitis
  • Enlarged tonsils
  • Allergies
  • Injury in the ear due to rapid pressure changes (also known as barotrauma)
  • GERD 

In addition, tumors and malformations in the face or palate are less common but can lead to discharge in the ears. Learn more about what causes ear discharge and what to do.

Treatment options

Treatment usually involves the elimination of accumulated secretion and symptom relief. Although discharge in the ear generally improves without any specific interventions, the doctor may prescribe medications with corticosteroids or antibiotics. 

In some cases, symptoms may persist or worsen depending on treatment. In these cases, the doctor may recommend a surgical procedure to insert a drain in the ear to remove any discharge and present accumulation in the future. 

Prevention measures

In small children, discharge in the ear can be prevented through breastfeeding. Antibodies that are naturally present in the breastmilk can help protect the baby from infections that cause ear infections and discharge. You should also avoid offering pacifiers and smoking near the child, as well as ensure the child's vaccines are all up to date. 

It is important for adults and children to wash their hands frequently. Children and adults that are sick with rhinitis, sinusitis, GERD and allergies should be assessed by a doctor to ensure these conditions are well-managed and do not worsen.