Should Your Child See a Doctor?
- Drainage of substances/liquids with varied colors and consistency from the ear canal
- Drainage through an ear tube is included
- Normal discharge: earwax or water. Earwax is light brown, dark brown, or orange brown in color.
- Abnormal discharge: cloudy fluid or pus. Main cause is an ear infection with drainage from a ruptured eardrum or through a ventilation tube.
When to Call Your Doctor for Ear Discharge
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 (EXCEPTION: few drops and follows ear exam)
- Fever over 104° F (40° C) and not improved 2 hours after fever medicine
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) 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 over 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 other harmless discharge and you don't think your child needs to be seen
Home Care Advice for Ear Discharge
- Ear wax protects the lining of the ear canal and has germ-killing properties.
- If the earwax is removed, the ear canals become itchy.
- Do not use cotton swabs (Q-tips) in your child's ear.
- Call Your Doctor If: Begins to look like pus (yellow or green discharge)
- 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 occur when a temporary tube blockage opens up and drains.
- Call Your Doctor If: Clear drainage persists for more than 24 hours or recurs
- Blood After Ear Exam:
- If your doctor had to remove ear wax in order to see the eardrum, about 10% of the time this causes a small scratch to the lining of the ear canal. Usually the scratch oozes 1 or 2 drops of blood and then clots.
- This should heal up completely in a few days.
- It shouldn't affect the hearing.
- Don't put anything in the ear canal because it will probably re-start the bleeding.
- Call Your Doctor If: Bleeding continues or recurs
- Suspected Ear Infection: Cloudy fluid or pus draining from the ear canal almost always means there's a small tear in the eardrum and a middle ear infection. Give acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) or ibuprofen for pain relief until the office visit. (See Earache for details)
- Call Your Doctor If:
And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "When to Call Your Doctor" symptoms.
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This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.
Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.
Last Reviewed: 8/1/2010
Last Revised: 9/14/2010
Copyright 1994-2011 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.