Read below about clear, odorless ear discharge, including causes and common questions. Or get a personalized analysis of your clear, odorless ear discharge from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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10 Potential Clear, Odorless Ear Discharge Causes

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.

  1. 1.Swimmer's Ear (Otitis Externa)

    Swimmer's ear, also known as otitis externa, is inflammation, irritation, or infection of the outer ear and ear canal.

    7-10 days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fever, ear canal pain, ear fullness/pressure, jaw pain, ear pain that gets worse when moving
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.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.

    Problem resolves after object is removed.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    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
  3. 3.Earwax Blockage

    Ear wax production is a normal process, as the body makes wax to protect the ear from infection. Sometimes ear wax can build up and cover the eardrum, which is a thin layer of skin that stretches across the end of the ear canal and picks up sound from outside. Ear wax buildup has nothing to do with poor hygiene, and it is not possible to prevent a build-up by washing.

    Condition likely will go away on its own after 5 days without treatment. However, with pain, dizziness, or feelings of fullness, the earwax should be removed.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, dry cough, ear canal pain, ear fullness/pressure, ringing in the ears
    Symptoms that never occur with earwax blockage:
    swollen ear, fever
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  4. 4.Cholesteatoma (a Non - Cancerous Growth in the Ear)

    Cholesteatoma is a type of skin cyst that is located in the middle ear and mastoid bone in the skull. It can be a birth defect though more commonly occurs as a complication of chronic ear infection.

    Chronic, but curable

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    ear fullness/pressure, ringing in the ears, pain in one ear canal, vertigo (extreme dizziness), hearing loss in one ear
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.Ear Plug Made of Skin Cells

    Keratosis Obturans is a rare disease where materials that make up the skin create a plug in the ear, causing pain, discharge, and hearing changes.

    Cured by removal

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    hearing loss, pain in one ear canal, ear discharge, hearing loss in both ears, severe ear canal pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

    Clear, Odorless Ear Discharge Checker

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  6. 6.Branchial Cleft Anomaly

    A branchial cleft anomaly (abnormality) is a mass of unusual tissues within the neck. These tissues may form fluid-filled pockets called cysts, or they may form passages (called fistulas) that drain to an opening in the skin.

    Good prognosis if surgically corrected, with no issues later in life.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    shortness of breath, neck bump, painful neck lump, trouble swallowing, swollen neck
    Symptoms that never occur with branchial cleft anomaly:
    bleeding from the ear
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Middle Ear Infection

    Middle ear infections, also known as otitis media, occur when the tubes that carry sound become clogged with debris like mucus.

    With proper treatment, middle ear infections generally resolve within a week.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, sore throat, new headache, fever, ear canal pain
    Symptoms that always occur with middle ear infection:
    ear canal pain
    Symptoms that never occur with middle ear infection:
    vertigo (extreme dizziness), face weakness, facial numbness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Temporomandibular Joint (Tmj) Dysfunction Disorder

    The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is located in front of the ear, and it connects the jaw to the side of the head. Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is a painful condition which can be caused by excess tension in jaw mucles, faulty alignment between upper and lower teeth, arthritis in the joint, or injury of the jaw or face.

    Outcome is highly case-dependent.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw, history of headaches, jaw pain, pain in the back of the neck
    Symptoms that always occur with temporomandibular joint (tmj) dysfunction disorder:
    pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  9. 9.Common Cold

    The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract.

    The common cold resolves within 7 to 10 days.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, sore throat, congestion
    Symptoms that never occur with common cold:
    being severely ill, severe muscle aches, rash, severe headache, sinus pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  10. 10.Fibromyalgia

    Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes widespread pain, tenderness, and fatigue.

    Fibromyalgia is generally a lifelong condition

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, arthralgias or myalgias, anxiety, depressed mood, headache
    Symptoms that always occur with fibromyalgia:
    arthralgias or myalgias
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

FAQs About Clear, Odorless Ear Discharge

Here are some frequently asked questions about clear, odorless ear discharge.

What does clear ear discharge without pain mean?

Individuals sometimes have thin cerumen that can present as ear drainage. In other cases, it indicates eardrum perforation as a result of otitis media with effusion (OME). OME means the accumulation of middle ear fluid without acute signs of illness or inflammation of the middle ear mucosa. OME usually follows acute middle ear infection, but can also result from barotraumas (e.g. high elevation), allergy, or Eustachian tube dysfunction (either irritated or blocked by a mass). Rarely, ear drainage is caused by spontaneous cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leakage through defects in the skull.

Does clear ear discharge mean I have an ear infection?

No. An ear infection is typically associated with purulent (thick, opaque) discharge and ear pain, and sometimes fever. Clear ear discharge has many other causes, as mentioned in Q1.

Can clear ear discharge mean I have a ruptured eardrum?

Yes, it can, especially if you have otitis media with effusion. However, there are other possible causes, many accompanied by additional symptoms. For example, thin cerumen can present as ear drainage. Contact dermatitis can lead to ear discharge with local irritation of the ear canal. Growth of polyps and granulation tissues in the external ear canal can also cause clear ear discharge, especially upon manipulation.

What causes fluid to build up in your ear?

Infection (e.g. acute otitis media, acute otitis externa) can cause fluid to build up. Fluid may also persist for some time after the infection is resolved. Barotrauma, allergies, irritation of the Eustachian tube lining (such as nasopharyngeal reflux, allergic rhinitis), or blockage of the Eustachian tube (by mass or cancer) can all cause fluid to build up in your ear. Rarely, defects in the skull may allow CSF to leak into the middle ear and accumulate there.

What does clear discharge at night mean?

There has not yet been definitive evidence linking the time of discharge to particular causes.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Clear, Odorless Ear Discharge

  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Have you been experiencing dizziness?
  • Q.Do you hear a ringing or whistling sound no one else hears?
  • Q.Do you use cotton-tipped swabs (q-tips) to clean your ears?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our clear, odorless ear discharge symptom checker to find out more.

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Clear, Odorless Ear Discharge Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced clear, odorless ear discharge have also experienced:

    • 13% Ear Canal Pain
    • 11% Pain in One Ear Canal
    • 10% Ear Fullness / Pressure
  • People who have experienced clear, odorless ear discharge had symptoms persist for:

    • 36% Less Than a Day
    • 28% Less Than a Week
    • 19% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced clear, odorless ear discharge were most often matched with:

    • 41% Swimmer's Ear (Otitis Externa)
    • 32% Foreign Body in External Ear
    • 25% Earwax Blockage
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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