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Posted by Dr. Monica Wonnacott | March 21, 2016

What To Do About Draining Ears

I am on call this weekend and have received a couple of calls about draining ears. Here’s the quick scoop on when you see stuff coming out of your kid’s ears.

First question is what is coming out of the ear? Is it just wax? Wax is usually a dark brown and sticky. There is no pain associated with wax. However, if it is pus, now we’re talking infection. Pus is white or yellow, creamy in consistency, and has a foul odor. Almost all cases of pus draining out of the ear come from one of two ways. First, pus can drain out if there is a tympanostomy tube (in fact, that is what they are designed to do). Second, pus drains out if the ear drum is ruptured. When that happens, sometimes the drainage will have a little blood in it.

When people refer to “ear infections,” they are usually referring to the middle ear (the medical term is “otitis media”—meaning ear, inflammation, middle). So when pus drains out of an ear, it means the pressure in the middle ear has gotten so great that the infection is draining out of the ear (normally it gets trapped behind the ear drum). If the ear infection is severe or goes on for a while, this complication will commonly happen.

Draining ears are treated with either antibiotic ear drops, oral antibiotics, or both. Your doctor will help determine what is best based on your child’s circumstances. Don’t be surprised if your doctor requests a follow up appointment after treatment to ensure the ear drum has healed properly. The silver lining to this whole situation is that often when the ear drum ruptures, the pain is greatly relieved because of the release in pressure. So if you have a draining ear, call your doctor, you’ll need to be seen.