What Causes Ear Bleeding? Your Symptoms Explained
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Bleeding from the ear is hard to ignore. It is important to known which part of the ear is bleeding because the location is a tell for the cause. Bleeding can come from damage to the ear canal skin, ruptured eardrum, especially if there is a foreign object in the ear -, or an infection from the middle ear. Read more below to learn what you should do at home for mild cases, what the major causes are, when to see a doctor and when you need to call 911.
Bleeding from the ear explained
It's unlikely you can ignore bleeding from your ear. Bloody discharge can originate from the ear canal leading to the eardrum, the eardrum itself, or the middle ear (the part of the ear that lies behind the eardrum). Depending on the cause, which can range from mild to severe, the discharge can be blood alone or blood and other fluids, like pus.
Common accompanying symptoms of bleeding from the ear
If you're experiencing bleeding from your ear, you also experience:
What causes ear bleeding?
The following details may help you better understand your symptoms and if and when you need to see a physician.
Injuries can easily result in bleeding.
- Ear canal injury: Bleeding from the ear can come from an injury to the skin of the ear canal. Injuries often occur when an object is inserted into the ear, such as a cotton swab or an instrument to remove earwax.
- Eardrum injury: A tear in the eardrum can lead to bleeding from the ear. This injury can occur due to increased pressure behind the eardrum with head trauma or a middle ear infection. A foreign object inserted into the ear canal can also rupture the eardrum.
- Head trauma: Bleeding from the ear can occur due to head trauma, even without perforation of the tympanic membrane, if there is a skull fracture with disruption of the ear canal.
Ear infections can result in bleeding.
- Middle ear infection: Usually an infection of the middle ear will not cause discharge unless there is a perforation of the eardrum. However, if ear tubes are in place, bloody discharge from an infection can drain out from behind the eardrum. A middle ear infection can also cause blisters (pustules) to form on the eardrum. Rupture of these blisters causes a bloody discharge.
- Ear canal infection: A chronic bacterial infection of the ear canal can lead to the development of abnormal tissue that easily bleeds.
Other causes of bleeding from the ear include the following.
- Polyp: Chronic inflammation in the ear can cause a polyp, a type of benign skin growth that often bleeds.
- Abnormal blood vessels: Ear bleeding can occur due to abnormal superficial blood vessels associated with a genetic disorder.
- Cancer: Bleeding from the ear could originate from skin cancer on the external ear or in the ear canal if it develops bleeding ulcers. A white bump or scaly patch may be visible.
3 bleeding from the ear conditions
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Foreign body in external ear
An ear foreign body is anything that gets stuck in the ear canal other than earwax. This may include food, toy pieces, beads, buttons, disk batteries, cotton swab, paper, or insects. Foreign bodies are usually trapped in the outer ear canal.
Top Symptoms: ear fullness/pressure, ear discharge, pain in one ear canal, bleeding from the ear, pus leaking from the ear
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Burst ear drum
The ear drum is a thin membrane that vibrates as sound hits it, transmitting that vibration into signals that the brain understands! When it bursts, your hearing is affected. It typically happens after some force to the ear drum, such as a blow to the ear, an exploding firecracker, a fall onto water, or even a sharp object in the ear.
Top Symptoms: ear canal pain, constant ear pain, ringing in the ears, vertigo (extreme dizziness), hearing loss
Symptoms that always occur with burst ear drum: ear canal pain, recent ear injury, constant ear pain
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Traumatic brain injury
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) happens when a bump, blow, jolt, or other head injury causes damage to the brain.
Top Symptoms: new headache, irritability, clear runny nose, vision changes, general numbness
Symptoms that always occur with traumatic brain injury: head injury
Urgency: Emergency medical service
When to seek treatment for blood in the ear
When it is an emergency
Seek immediate treatment if:
- Your ear bleeding starts after head trauma
- You have a fever more than 102 degrees Fahrenheit: Along with chronic drainage and bleeding from the ear
- You have sudden-onset hearing loss or a spinning sensation
When to see a doctor
Even if emergency care isn't necessary, you should see a physician fo ear bleeding unless there is an obvious source, such as a scratch visible in the ear canal. Make an appointment with your physician if you or your child have:
- A history of chronic ear infections
- Hearing loss or a spinning sensation
- Severe and persistent pain 
- A bump or scaly area in the ear: Regardless if it has stayed the same or increased in size over time.
- Bleeding that persists several days after ear tube placement
Your physician may prescribe one or more of the following bleeding from the ear treatments, depending on the cause of the bleeding.
- Antibiotic drops for an infection
- Laser therapy for abnormal blood vessels
- Referral for surgical management of cancer
- Referral for new or replacement ear tubes
Many causes of ear bleeding will eventually resolve on their own. Some home treatments may also help.
- Keep the ear dry and clean: Do not go swimming until the bleeding has resolved and dry your ears thoroughly after you bathe.
- Avoid blowing the nose forcefully: Blowing your nose causes increased pressure behind the ears.
- Avoid placing any objects in the ear: Especially cotton swabs or Q-tips, which can cause or exacerbate injuries to the eardrum and ear canal
FAQs about bleeding from the ear
What causes bleeding from the ear after a head injury?
Head trauma may cause a perforated eardrum, which leads to bleeding. In addition, a blow to the head can cause a skull fracture. Depending on the bone affected, the fracture can disrupt the ear canal, also resulting in bleeding. You should seek emergency treatment if you notice bleeding from the ear after a head injury.
Can bleeding from the ear be caused by an infection?
Yes, an ear infection can cause bleeding. Bleeding often occurs with an infection of the middle ear — the part of the ear behind the eardrum. A middle ear infection can cause the eardrum to rupture and bleed. Tubes inserted into the ear allow blood and other fluid to drain, and this drainage may increase with the presence of an infection. Less commonly, a chronic infection of the ear canal can lead to the development of abnormal tissue that bleeds easily.
What kinds of injuries cause bleeding from the ear?
A skull fracture can cause bleeding from the ear due to disruption of the ear canal. In addition, a perforated eardrum may cause bleeding. Head injuries or inserting foreign objects into the ear can lead to a perforated eardrum. In addition to bleeding, head trauma or eardrum perforation can lead to symptoms such as hearing loss or a sensation of spinning, depending on the extent of the injury.
Can skin abnormalities cause bleeding from the ear?
Yes, bleeding from the ear may originate from abnormalities of the skin of the outer ear or ear canal. Skin cancer on the ear may present with bleeding as it ulcerates. In this case, a white bump or scaly area may be visible. In addition, abnormal superficial blood vessels in the ear, or telangiectasias, can bleed intermittently . These abnormalities can occur with the genetic disorder, hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia.
Can ear tubes cause bleeding from the ear?
Bleeding may occur after ear tubes are inserted to treat chronic ear infections. The bleeding should not last for more than a couple of days. In addition, bleeding from the ear may occur with an ear infection in the middle ear while the ear tubes are in place. Blood and fluid normally build up behind the eardrum during a middle ear infection. Part of the purpose of ear tubes is to relieve pressure from fluid buildup and allow drainage, so bloody discharge is possible.
Questions your doctor may ask about bleeding from the ear
- Have someone look in your ear with a flashlight. What is seen?
- Do you hear a ringing or whistling sound no one else hears?
- Is there anything coming from your ear(s)?
- Have you noticed a change in your hearing?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
Bleeding from the ear statistics
People who have experienced bleeding from the ear have also experienced:
- 13% Ear Canal Pain
- 10% Pain In One Ear Canal
- 6% Headache
People who have experienced bleeding from the ear were most often matched with:
- 46% Traumatic Brain Injury
- 26% Foreign Body In External Ear
- 26% Burst Ear Drum
People who have experienced bleeding from the ear had symptoms persist for:
- 66% Less than a day
- 22% Less than a week
- 4% Over a month
Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant (a.k.a. the quiz).
Lauren is a resident physician in family medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She earned her medical degree at the University of Pennsylvania and her undergraduate degree at Oberlin College. Lauren also has an interest in teaching as well as experience with college tutoring and writing MCAT preparatory materials. She believes family medicine challenges her to maintain a broad field of medical knowledge and she hopes to work in an academic setting in the future. In her free time, Lauren enjoys running, reading, and visiting historic sites.
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- O'Reilly RC. Ear Injuries. Nemours: KidsHealth. Updated October 2016. KidsHealth Link.
- Ear - Injury. Seattle Childrens Hospital. Updated November 3, 2018. Seattle Childrens Hospital Link.
- Edens Hurst AC. Ataxia - Telangiectasia. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated August 6, 2017. MedlinePlus Link.