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How should I lay to drain my ear?

What is ear drainage and what causes it?

Ear drainage refers to fluid leaking from the ear. This can include pus, blood, or watery discharge coming from the ear canal. Some common causes of ear drainage include:

  • Ear infections – Ear infections, also known as otitis media, often lead to pus draining from the ear. Infections cause inflammation and fluid buildup in the middle ear which can seep out through a ruptured eardrum.
  • Swimmer’s ear – Also known as otitis externa, swimmer’s ear is an infection of the outer ear canal typically caused by water that gets trapped inside. This leads to inflammation, pain, and yellow or white discharge.
  • Earwax buildup – While some earwax is normal, excessive buildup can sometimes get infected and ooze out of the ear.
  • Damaged eardrum – Any damage to the thin eardrum, such as a perforation, can allow drainage to seep through from the middle or outer ear.
  • Foreign object – If something gets lodged in the ear canal, it can scratch or injure the skin lining it and lead to drainage as the body tries to naturally expel the object.
  • Ear trauma – Direct blows to the ear or pressure injuries (e.g. from scuba diving) can potentially rupture the eardrum and cause bleeding or other discharge.
  • Cholesteatoma – This is an abnormal skin growth behind the eardrum that can damage bones and lead to infection and ear drainage.

The type and color of the ear drainage can sometimes provide clues as to the cause. Yellow or white discharge may indicate infection, while clear, watery discharge may result from swimmer’s ear or a ruptured eardrum. Blood suggests some kind of trauma occurred.However, the only way to know for sure is to get examined by a doctor.

Should I clean or leave the ear alone?

It’s usually best not to clean or touch a draining ear at all. That’s because you can accidentally push the drainage deeper into the ear canal or scratch and irritate the sensitive skin inside the ear.

Instead, it’s safest to keep the ear alone and dry and see a doctor as soon as possible. They will properly clean out the ear using a suction device and microscope to inspect the drainage and determine the cause.

However, if ear drainage is significant or starts to affect hearing, gently wipe the outer ear with a clean cotton ball to soak up some of the discharge. Never insert a cotton swab (Q-tip) or anything else into the ear canal. You should also avoid getting water in a draining ear, such as when bathing or swimming, as this can worsen irritation.

Again, it’s important to avoid sticking anything into the ear canal that could worsen swelling or push debris and discharge deeper into the ear. Seek medical attention to have the ear properly cleaned and to get appropriate treatment for the underlying cause. Leaving drainage in the ear for too long can increase the risk of pain and infection.

How do doctors treat ear drainage?

Doctors can treat ear drainage in a few ways, depending on the cause:

  • Ear infections – Oral antibiotics (and sometimes antibiotic ear drops) are used to clear bacterial ear infections. Decongestants and anti-inflammatory drops may also help reduce swelling and discomfort.
  • Swimmer’s ear – Doctors often prescribe antibiotic and/or antifungal ear drops to combat swimmer’s ear. Oral antibiotics may be needed for severe infections.
  • Earwax blockage – Earwax is carefully manually flushed out using warm water irrigation or ear drops to soften and loosen the wax. Sometimes other instruments may be used to scoop out excess wax.
  • Damaged eardrum – A perforated eardrum usually needs to heal on its own over the course of a few weeks or months. Ear drops can prevent infection while it heals. Significant damage may require surgery.
  • Foreign object – Objects lodged in the ear canal need prompt removal by a doctor. Antibiotic and steroid eardrops help soothe irritation and prevent infection.
  • Ear trauma – Doctors may prescribe eardrops and pain relievers and recommend avoiding irritation to help the ear heal after trauma. Severe trauma may require surgery.
  • Cholesteatoma – Surgery by an ear specialist is needed to remove this extensive skin growth and prevent serious complications like hearing loss.

In all cases, keeping water out of the ear during bathing/swimming until the drainage stops is very important. Follow-up appointments ensure proper healing. Seek prompt medical attention if you experience any ear drainage lasting more than a couple days.

What precautions should I take with an ear drainage problem?

Here are some important precautions to take when dealing with a draining ear:

– Keep all water out of the ear canal. Use an ear plug or cotton with vaseline when bathing or showering to keep the ear dry. Avoid swimming until the drainage completely stops. Water can worsen the irritation, pain, and infection risk.

– Never insert cotton swabs/Q-tips, bobby pins, or anything else into the ear canal. This forces debris and discharge deeper into the ear and makes swelling worse.

– Don’t use any ear drops not prescribed by your doctor. Home remedies and over-the-counter ear drops could end up irritating the ear more or worsening infection.

– Protect the ear from further irritation and trauma. Avoid sleeping on the affected ear. Use an ear band or headband to keep long hair pulled back. Don’t stick fingers in the ear.

– Finish any ear drainage medication as prescribed, even if symptoms improve sooner. Stopping treatment early could allow the infection to return.

– Avoid flying. The pressure changes in airplanes can cause pain and worsen swelling in an ear with drainage.

– Follow up with your doctor as recommended. They may want to monitor healing and repeat cleaning the ear until it is clear.

Taking these simple precautions can help minimize complications and speed up recovery when dealing with ear drainage. See a doctor right away if pain gets worse or fever develops, as this may indicate a worsening infection.

When should I see a doctor about ear drainage?

It’s important to have a doctor examine any ear that has been draining fluid for more than 1-2 days. Some signs you should be evaluated include:

– Thick, yellow, or foul-smelling discharge (sign of infection)
– Feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear
– Muffled hearing or noises sounding different in the ear
– Dizziness or vertigo
– Ongoing pain that worsens when tugging earlobe or chewing
– Fever along with ear drainage

Younger children who have trouble explaining symptoms may show signs like tugging at their ear, trouble sleeping, loss of appetite or balance issues.

Seeing a doctor right away is especially crucial if you experience:

– Sudden hearing loss
– Pus plus bleeding from the ear
– Drainage after a head injury

This helps identify if serious problems like a skull fracture, ruptured eardrum, or cholesteatoma exist. Prompt treatment prevents long-term hearing damage or life-threatening complications.

For mild drainage and irritation without other symptoms, it’s okay to wait a day or two to see if it improves on its own. But persisting drainage should get examined to determine the underlying cause and appropriate treatment. An ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist can properly clean the ear canal and evaluate it.

When is ear drainage an emergency?

Though mild drainage often clears up on its own, certain scenarios require emergency care:

– Sudden hearing loss – Rapid loss of hearing in one or both ears needs immediate evaluation to prevent permanent deafness.

– Pus and blood – Drainage of pus mixed with blood could mean a ruptured eardrum or serious infection like mastoiditis. These require urgent antibiotic treatment.

– After a head injury – Any fluids leaking from the ears after a head blow or trauma signals possible skull fracture and serious injury. Seek emergency care.

– Facial paralysis – Paralysis or weakness of the face combined with ear drainage can be a sign of serious infection spreading. Go to an emergency room.

– Stiff neck and headache – When drainage is accompanied by fever, headache and neck stiffness, it may indicate meningitis that could become life-threatening.

– Dizziness and nausea – Persistent vertigo along with vomiting after drainage starts means a severe inner ear problem like labyrinthitis. Seek emergency treatment.

– Child under 2 years old – Drainage in infants or toddlers is always considered an urgent concern due to their small ear canals and higher infection risk.

Anytime you have severe, worsening pain along with ear drainage, it’s safest to go to urgent care or the ER to get evaluated promptly. Severe infections like mastoiditis or malignant otitis media need fast medical intervention to prevent permanent complications.

Can I prevent future ear drainage problems?

You can reduce the likelihood of recurrent or chronic ear drainage issues using these prevention tips:

– Dry your ears thoroughly after swimming or bathing. Tilt your head to let water drain out. Consider using a blow dryer on low heat briefly.

– Avoid inserting any objects in your ears like cotton swabs. Don’t try to scratch or clean the ear canal.

– Treat ear infections promptly with a full course of any prescribed antibiotics. Take all doses even if symptoms improve sooner.

– Use ear protection when exposed to loud machinery and noises greater than 85 decibels. Loud noise damages the eardrum over time.

– Stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke exposure, which increase the risk of ear infections.

– Consider getting the pneumococcal vaccine, especially for young children, since this bacteria is a common ear infection culprit.

– Maintain good hygiene and handwashing habits to prevent spread of bacteria and viruses that cause drainage-producing infections.

– Keep chronic medical conditions like diabetes well controlled since they make ear infections more likely

– Avoid using devices like headphones and hearing aids that can trap moisture in the ear canal

Seeking treatment right away when your ears feel irritated or clogged can also prevent progression to a full infection and draining fluid. Having recurrent ear problems? Talk to an ENT about possible solutions and long-term management.


Ear drainage is a common problem that usually results from an underlying infection or injury. While mild drainage often clears up in a few days, recurrent or severe cases need medical treatment to properly clean the ear and get rid of debris, prevent complications like hearing loss, and manage any underlying medical conditions.

Seeking prompt treatment instead of trying to self-treat with cotton swabs or home remedies is crucial. This allows doctors to prescribe antibiotic or antifungal eardrops as needed and recommend ways to keep the ears dry and protected while healing. Practicing good ear hygiene and avoiding re-injury can help prevent repeat ear drainage issues in the future.

Type of ear drainage Possible causes
Thick, yellow/white, foul smelling discharge Bacterial or fungal ear infection, cholesteatoma, mastoiditis, swollen lymph nodes
Bloody drainage Ruptured eardrum, skull fracture, skin cancer of the ear canal
Clear, watery discharge Swimmer’s ear, perforated eardrum, CSF leak
Brown, flakey discharge Eczema of the ear, healing blood in ear

This table summarizes the most common types of ear drainage and what they may potentially indicate. When combined with other symptoms, inspecting the color and thickness of ear discharge can aid doctors in making a diagnosis. However, medical evaluation is still needed to identify the definitive cause and appropriate treatment.

Treatment Options for Ear Drainage Methods Considerations
Antibiotic eardrops Ciprofloxacin, ofloxacin drops 2-3x daily for 7-10 days Treats bacterial infections
Antifungal eardrops Clotrimazole, miconazole 2-3x daily for 7-14 days Treats fungal swimmer’s ear
Oral antibiotics Amoxicillin, azithromycin for 5-10 days For severe infections
Ear wick Absorbs drainage and applies medication inside ear Useful for severe otitis
Ear tube surgery Inserts tubes to drain fluid from inner ear Prevents recurring infections/fluid

This table reviews the main medical treatment approaches for different types of ear drainage. Antibiotic and antifungal ear drops are commonly prescribed to clear infections and reduce swelling. Oral antibiotics provide additional infection control. Procedures like ear tubes or wicks directly drain the ear and apply medication. The best approach depends on the cause and severity.