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Pediatric - Ear Discharge

Ear - discharge

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Does this describe your child's symptoms?

  • 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: main cause is an ear infection with drainage of cloudy fluid or pus through a ruptured eardrum or through a ventilation tube.

If not, see these topics

When to Call Your Doctor

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

  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.
    • 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)
  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 occur when a temporary tube blockage opens up and drains.
    • Call Your Doctor If: Clear drainage persists for more than 24 hours or recurs
  3. 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
  4. 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)
  5. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Your child becomes worse

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended 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: 1/19/2009

Last Revised: 6/24/2008

Content Set: Pediatric HouseCalls Online

Copyright 1994-2009 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

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