Read below about clear, odorless ear discharge, including causes, treatment options and remedies. 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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Clear, Odorless Ear Discharge Symptoms

It is normal to have some discharge from your ear. Ear wax (cerumen) protects the skin of your ear canal by keeping it clean and lubricated. Proper ear hygiene does not involve cotton swabs, ear candles or ear wax removal kits. Cerumen already provides a barrier against infection-causing bacteria, viruses, fungi, and potential damage caused by foreign objects.

Sometimes, however, the amount of cerumen is excessive. Cerumen can become impacted, causing discomfort in your ear. Cerumen impaction can even cause problems hearing. Cerumen and other discharge from your ear can present in different colors. Discharge may be reddish, dark brown, black, yellowish, off-white or clear. Clear, odorless ear discharge might be related to recurrent childhood ear infections, injury to your ear canal, foreign body, or even an upper respiratory infection like a cold [1,2].

Characteristics

Symptoms associated with clear, odorless ear discharge may include:

Clear, Odorless Ear Discharge Causes Overview

The following are the most common causes of clear, odorless ear discharge [3].

  • Thin cerumen: Some people make ear wax that is more liquid than solid. Thin cerumen is normal and may be clear to yellowish in color.
  • Eczematoid dermatitis: This is a skin condition that can occur in the ear canal, causing irritation, itching, flaking skin, and clear discharge.
  • A ruptured eardrum This can be due to a middle ear infection (otitis media), can cause clear discharge [4].
  • Cerebral spinal fluid leak: Clear cerebral spinal fluid may leak from the ears after a traumatic brain injury (TBI) [5].
  • Ear infection: Clear discharge from tympanostomy tube drainage may be an early sign of ear infection.

Less commonly, clear, odorless ear discharge might be caused by a variety of skin conditions, middle ear diseases and tumors (benign and cancerous), herpes, radiation, or chemotherapy treatment [6].

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Clear, Odorless Ear Discharge

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced clear, odorless ear discharge. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  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.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

    Clear, Odorless Ear Discharge Checker

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  3. 3.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
  4. 4.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.

    Smaller perforations heal over days to weeks almost 100% of the time. Larger perforations may need a procedure. If healing doesn't happen in 8 weeks, surgery may be necessary.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    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
  5. 5.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

Clear, Odorless Ear Discharge Treatments and Relief

Depending on the cause of your clear, odorless ear discharge, your health care provider may recommend professional disimpaction of cerumen, antibiotic or steroid medications.

At-home treatments

Good ear hygiene is important. You should practice the following in order to limit or alleviate symptoms.

  • Leave the ears alone: Unless there is a build-up of excess ear wax, trust your ears to clean themselves.
  • Use irrigation: If you must clean your ears, irrigation is the safest and most effective method. Use hydrogen peroxide or mineral oil. Do not irrigate your ears if you have ear pain, if you think or know you have damage to your eardrum (tympanic membrane) or if you've had a lot of earaches in your life.
  • Avoid swabbing: Swabbing your ears is potentially dangerous. Swabbing may remove some wax but can push wax deeper into the ear, or even puncture your eardrum.
  • Avoid ear candling: Ear candling has never been demonstrated to be effective and is potentially dangerous in that it may cause facial burns.
  • Avoid wax remover kits: These kits which may contain sharp instruments.

Seek immediate treatment or call 911 for the following

Seek immediate medical care if you have clear, odorless ear discharge and:

  • A recent head injury
  • Ear fullness or pain
  • A rash or itching in or around your ear
  • Fever
  • The discharge starts to smell foul or becomes pus-like
  • Any loss of hearing
  • Numbness, weakness or paralysis on one side of your face
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • You know there is something in your ear that should not be there
  • Jaw pain

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.Have you been experiencing dizziness?
  • Q.Have you noticed a change in your hearing?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Do you hear a ringing or whistling sound no one else hears?

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:

    • 12% Ear Canal Pain
    • 11% Pain in One Ear Canal
    • 9% Ear Fullness / Pressure
  • People who have experienced clear, odorless ear discharge had symptoms persist for:

    • 34% Less Than a Day
    • 29% Less Than a Week
    • 21% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced clear, odorless ear discharge were most often matched with:

    • 40% Swimmer's Ear (Otitis Externa)
    • 40% Foreign Body in External Ear
    • 20% 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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References

  1. Ear - Discharge. Seattle Children's Hospital. Updated March 31, 2018. Seattle Children's Hospital Link
  2. Jothi S. Ear Discharge. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated May 25, 2016. MedlinePlus Link
  3. Ear Discharge. Health Navigator. Updated June 24, 2018. Health Navigator Link
  4. Otitis Media (Middle Ear Infection) in Adults. Columbia University: Department of Otolaryngology. ENT Columbia Link
  5. Cerebrospinal Fluid Leak. Cedars-Sinai. Cedars-Sinai Link
  6. Hearing Problems After Treatment. The Children's Oncology Group. The Children's Oncology Group Link