Unexpected Draining From the Ear

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How to Drain an Ear Infection....5

If you are experience unexpected draining from the ear, it very well could be caused from an infection. Learn about what might be causing your ear drainage with help from a practicing pediatrician in this free video on ear care.

Part of the Video Series: Ear Care & Treatments
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Video Transcript

Hi. I'm Dr. David Hill, and today we're going to be talking about how to tell if your ear is starting to drain. So, let's talk about why somebody's ear would drain. Well, there's some kind of obvious reasons: maybe they've been swimming, or diving, you get some water in your ear and now it's coming out. Hopefully, you know if you've been swimming or diving. However, what about mystery drainage from the ear? What if something is coming out that you didn't expect to be there? Well, the first question is what is the source of the drainage? When we think about the anatomy of the ear, we consider the outer ear, the external auditory canal, which starts at the hole where the sound goes in and ends at the eardrum. That's kind of a tunnel that is lined with skin and tissue and sometimes you can get an infection there. We call that a swimmer's ear, or an otitis externa. As those infections worsen, they can cause drainage. That's usually a very painful condition, so if you've got that sort of pain and drainage, there's a good chance that you have a swimmer's ear. Another hallmark of swimmer's ear is that it hurts when you pull on or push on the external portions of the ear. Because that pulls and pushes on those tissues that line the external auditory canal. Now, another potential source for ear drainage is a little deeper. It's on the other side of the eardrum, in what we call the middle ear. This is an air-filled space that holds the bones that transmit sound vibrations from the eardrum into the cochlea, the nerve that carries the sound vibration into the brain. As a result of a cold, or a sinus infection, sometimes you can get a fluid collection there in the middle ear. And if that fluid becomes badly infected, it may eat right through the eardrum and drain out. Usually just before the drainage, the eardrum becomes quite painful. But, immediately after the drainage, there's not so much pressure on the eardrum and it doesn't tend to hurt. This drainage would probably look like pus. It may even smell foul, and it gives you instant relief of pain, in contrast to the external ear infection, swimmer's ear, which would continue to hurt. Now, usually those eardrums heal up very nicely on their own; often by the time patients make it to the doctor, we don't even see the hole anymore. But you probably should get looked at, to make sure that your doctor knows what's going on and can treat any conditions that may require antibiotics or other treatment. Talking about how to know when you're having drainage out of your ear, I'm Dr. David Hill.


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