Otorrhea is a term that refers to any fluid that comes out of the ear. Normal ear discharge includes water that comes out after exiting a pool or shower, and earwax. Earwax exists to protect your ear from dust and other foreign objects that can cause bacteria to build up. Watery drainage, clear drainage from ears, or wax leaking from the ears is classified as spontaneous drainage and is not a cause for concern.
Maybe you are noticing you have ear drainage at night or you have ear fluid leaking intermittently and have been wondering why it's occurring.
There are some forms of ear drainage that could indicate a bigger issue. Let’s take a closer look at why your ears may be draining.
Causes for Drainage From Ear
Spending time in “dirty water,” like a river or a lake, can introduce bacteria or fungus to the middle ear space when the ear’s natural barriers don’t protect it. The moisture, combined with bacteria in the ear, can cause infection. This condition is called otitis externa, or swimmer’s ear. Damage to the ear canal can make it vulnerable to infection as well.
Damage to Ear
It is easy to damage our ears with fingers or with cotton swabs. You may think you’re cleaning out your ears, but really you’re introducing bacteria, and if you push a cotton swab into your ear too deep or scratch your ear canal with a fingernail, you’re in danger of infection.
These are both circumstances where the eardrum is intact. There are other situations when the eardrum is compromised, that can cause fluid in the ear.
Inner Ear Infections
A severe inner ear infection can actually rupture the eardrum. If you have increasing pain and fever with ear pain, then a bloody discharge associated with lessening of pain, this may be a possible sign of a ruptured eardrum. Holes in the eardrum make it more likely that you’ll get water or debris inside the ear and can cause chronic inflammation, which can lead to a condition called chronic mastoiditis, something to avoid.
When to See A Doctor
In situations where your ear itches all the time, swells, or you experience hearing loss, call for an urgent appointment. Some of these symptoms may indicate more serious ear conditions.
If ear drainage that seems normal continues for weeks or months, it is best to seek medical treatment to rule out infection and other conditions.
If you are experiencing fluid coming out of the ear accompanied by double vision, severe and frequent headaches, facial weakness or increasing vertigo, visit the ER to make sure there isn’t a more serious underlying condition. These symptoms accompanying a leaking ear can signal something more serious.