Otology, Neurotology, & Hearing Center

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What is leaking from my ear?

Blog post by Dallas Ear Institute

What is leaking from my ear?

Anyone who has experienced drainage from their ear can tell you what an unpleasant experience it is. It can cause stains on your pillow or the collar of your shirt. It can be associated with hearing loss. It may even come with ear pain. It often leaves the sufferer wondering: what is leaking from my ear?

Otorrhea, the medical term for ear drainage, comes in many different forms. It may be clear, yellow, white, or bloody. It may be odorless or have a foul odor. It can be thin and watery or thick like mucous.

What is leaking from my ear?

It has as many different causes as its different characteristics. If you are a swimmer, the frequent exposure to water can lead to chronic moisture retention. The skin of the ear canal becomes infected and as the skin weeps, otorrhea develops. Trauma to the skin by aggressive ear cleaning can result in a similar infection of the ear canal. If you have diabetes and ear drainage a more serious infection can quickly develop.

If you have a history of chronic ear infections, perforation of the ear drum allows for drainage of pus from the middle ear (space behind the ear drum). Chronic ear infections can also cause a skin cyst to develop in the middle ear (cholesteatoma). Recurring episodes of foul smelling otorrhea that improve temporarily with antibiotics only to come back suggests cholesteatoma. Blood from the ear may also be seen in this condition.

Rarely, clear fluid leaking from the ear is brain and spinal fluid (CSF). A history of ear surgery increases the concern for clear fluid being serious. CSF leaking from the ear indicates a hernia between the brain and ear (encephalocele). Untreated CSF leak can cause chronic headaches.  Repair is needed to stop the leakage and remove the possibility of brain infection (meningitis).

The characteristics of the drainage are not reliable in determining the cause. At the Dallas Ear Institute, there are professionals to help you know more about why your ear is draining. Call (972) 566-7600 to schedule an appointment.