If you suddenly notice fluid draining out of your ear, you might be worried. Ears don't usually drain unless you have an infection or an injury.
While ear discharge can be alarming, it is almost always treatable. Learn more about why you might have yellow fluid draining from your ear and what to do about it.
What is ear discharge?
Ear discharge, or ear drainage, happens when fluid leaks out of your ear. Most of the time, the only discharge you find is the earwax you see in your ear canal. Earwax is easy to recognize, as it is often sticky and yellow or brown. Injuries or infections, however, can lead to fluids like pus or blood leaking out of your ear.
Signs of ear discharge
You may notice ear discharge because you can feel the fluid dripping out of the ear canal. You might also find dried fluid crusted on your skin or on your pillowcase. Discharge can be clear, whitish or yellowish, or tinged with blood. Injuries can cause bleeding from your ear.
Sometimes, you will notice other symptoms as well as ear discharge.
You may find that you have:
- Swelling of the outer ear
- Hearing loss
- Balance problems
Causes of ear discharge
There are many reasons that your ear could be leaking fluid. You can get an idea of how serious the situation is by looking at the fluid. The color can tell you a lot about what's causing the drainage.
Some cases are harmless and not a cause for alarm. A few of the most common causes of ear drainage include:
Water from swimming or bathing can stay in the ear canal and drain out later.
If you put medicine in your ear, you might notice it draining out later.
If earwax mixes with water, it can look like a liquid discharge. It will usually be orange, yellow, or brown.
Ear tube drainage
People with chronic ear infections sometimes have ventilation tubes placed in their ears. This is very common among children, and sometimes the tubes allow a clear or yellowish fluid to leak out of the ear.
Other types of discharge are linked to injury or infection. For these, you will need to visit your doctor.
Swimmer's ear is a minor infection of the outer ear canal. It can sometimes cause yellow or clear fluid to leak out of the ear.
Middle ear infection
Ear infections behind the ear are very common, especially in children. If the eardrum ruptures, the pus buildup behind the eardrum might drain out of the ear. The fluid may be whitish or yellowish.
If you’ve been injured, you may have blood drain from your ear. Injuries that cause ear drainage can include damage from foreign objects in the ear as well as more severe head injuries. Some injuries can perforate the eardrum.
In rare cases, ear drainage is a symptom of something more serious like cancer or a skull fracture.