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Ear - Discharge

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Does this describe your child's symptoms?


  • Drainage of substances/liquids with varied colors and consistency from the ear canal

  • Drainage through an ear tube is included


  • Normal discharge: earwax or water. Earwax is light brown, dark brown, or orange brown in color.

  • Abnormal discharge: cloudy fluid or pus. Main cause is an ear infection with drainage from a ruptured eardrum or through a ventilation tube.

If not, see these topics


When to Call Your Doctor

call now

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If

  • Your child looks or acts very sick

  • Pink or red swelling behind the ear

  • Clear or bloody fluid following head injury

  • Bleeding from the ear canal (EXCEPTION: few drops and follows ear exam)

  • Fever over 104° F (40° C) and not improved 2 hours after fever medicine

  • You think your child needs to be seen urgently

call within 24 hours

Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If

  • You think your child needs to be seen, but not urgently

  • Ear pain or unexplained crying

  • Discharge is yellow or green, cloudy white or foul-smelling (pus)

  • Clear drainage (not from a head injury) persists over 24 hours

call within 24 hours

Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If

  • You have other questions or concerns

home care

Parent Care at Home If

  • Probably normal earwax or other harmless discharge and you don't think your child needs to be seen



  1. Earwax:

    • Ear wax protects the lining of the ear canal and has germ-killing properties.

    • If the earwax is removed, the ear canals become itchy.

    • Do not use cotton swabs (Q-tips) in your child's ear.

    • Call Your Doctor If: Begins to look like pus (yellow or green discharge)

  2. Clear Discharge (without head trauma):

    • It's probably tears or water that entered the ear canal during a bath, shower, swimming or water fight.

    • Don't overlook eardrops your child or someone else used without telling you.

    • In children with ventilation tubes, some clear or slightly cloudy fluid can occur when a temporary tube blockage opens up and drains.

    • Call Your Doctor If: Clear drainage persists for more than 24 hours or recurs

  3. Blood After Ear Exam:

    • If your doctor had to remove ear wax in order to see the eardrum, about 10% of the time this causes a small scratch to the lining of the ear canal. Usually the scratch oozes 1 or 2 drops of blood and then clots.

    • This should heal up completely in a few days.

    • It shouldn't affect the hearing.

    • Don't put anything in the ear canal because it will probably re-start the bleeding.

    • Call Your Doctor If: Bleeding continues or recurs

  4. Suspected Ear Infection: Cloudy fluid or pus draining from the ear canal almost always means there's a small tear in the eardrum and a middle ear infection. Give acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) or ibuprofen for pain relief until the office visit. (See EARACHE for details)

  5. Call Your Doctor If:

    • Your child becomes worse

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.

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