Symptom Definition

  1. Drainage of substances with varied colors and consistency from the ear canal.
  2. Normal discharge: earwax or water. Earwax is light brown, dark brown, or orange brown in color.
  3. Main cause of abnormal discharge: an ear infection with drainage of cloudy fluid or pus through a ruptured eardrum or through a ventilation tube.

See More Appropriate Topic

  1. If follows ear injury, see EAR TRAUMA
  2. If began while doing lots of swimming, see EAR, SWIMMERS

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If

  1. Your child looks or acts very sick
  2. Pink or red swelling behind the ear
  3. Clear or bloody fluid following head injury
  4. Bleeding from the ear canal
  5. Fever > 104oF (40oC)

Call Your Doctor within 24 Hours (between 9 and 4) If

  1. You think your child needs to be seen
  2. Ear pain or unexplained crying
  3. Discharge is yellow or green, cloudy white or foul-smelling (pus)
  4. Clear drainage (not from a head injury) persists > 24 hours

Call Your Doctor during Weekday Office Hours If

  1. You have other questions or concerns

Parent Care at Home If

  1. Probably normal earwax or water and you don't think your child needs to be seen

Home Care Advice for Ear Discharges

  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.
  • Call back if: begins to look like pus (yellow or green discharge).
  1. 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 come from a temporary tube blockage that opens up and drains.
  • Call back if: Clear drainage persists > 24 hours or recurs.

Suspected Ear Infection: Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain relief until the office visit. (See EARACHE for details)