Ear Discharge

Symptom Definition

  • Drainage of substances with varied colors and consistency from the ear canal.
  • Normal discharge: earwax or water. Earwax is light brown, dark brown, or orange brown in color.
  • Main cause of abnormal discharge: an ear infection with drainage of cloudy fluid or pus through a ruptured eardrum or through a ventilation tube.

See More Appropriate Topic

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If

  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • Pink or red swelling behind the ear
  • Clear or bloody fluid following head injury
  • Bleeding from the ear canal
  • Fever > 104°F (40°C)

Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 and 4) If

  • You think your child needs to be seen
  • Ear pain or unexplained crying
  • Discharge is yellow or green, cloudy white or foul-smelling (pus)
  • Clear drainage (not from a head injury) persists > 24 hours

Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If

  • You have other questions or concerns

Parent Care at Home If

  • Probably normal earwax or water and you don’t think your child needs to be seen

Home Care Advice for Ear Discharges

  1. 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.
    • Call back if: begins to look like pus (yellow or green discharge).
  2. Clear Discharge (without head trauma): It’s probably tears or water that entered the ear canal 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 come from a temporary tube blockage that opens up and drains.
    • Call back if: Clear drainage persists > 24 hours or recurs.
  3. Suspected Ear Infection: Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain relief until the office visit. (See Earache for details)