Although a small amount of blood-tinged ear discharge might not be significant, it could be a sign of a potentially serious ear issue, especially in young children and those with a history of ear problems. If you notice even a tiny amount of bloody discharge from your child's ear, contact his pediatrician.
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Bloody discharge in your child’s ear can arise from multiple causes, including something as minor as irritation of the skin, or something more serious, like a perforated eardrum. The skin lining the ear canal is extremely sensitive and easy to injure; a smear of bloody discharge could occur if a foreign body, such as a cotton-tipped swab or pen cap, injures or scratches this delicate skin. On the other hand, blood-tinged drainage could result from a ruptured eardrum, which occurs when an infection in the middle ear puts pressure on and tears the eardrum.
Depending on the cause, a child with bloody discharge often experiences other symptoms that indicate an underlying ear problem. Pain, tenderness and itching could accompany a scratched ear canal, especially if the scratch develops into an external ear infection. Pain resulting from this type of infection typically worsens if you pull gently on your child’s ear lobe, and the ear canal might appear swollen or red if you look inside the ear. Extreme fussiness, crying and a throbbing earache, as well as partial hearing loss and a buzzing sound, often occur right before an eardrum ruptures.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Contact your pediatrician as soon as you notice bloody discharge coming from your child’s ear, especially if your child is under the age of 2 years or has ear tubes in place. She’ll remove the discharge manually and might collect a sample of it for lab testing, depending on your child’s symptoms and medical history. Once the ear canal is clear, the pediatrician typically examines the ear to determine the origin of the drainage. Depending on the results of the physical exam, possible treatment options include topical analgesics and oral or topical antibiotics.
In many cases, tiny specks of bloody discharge come from overly aggressive ear cleaning, usually with a cotton-tipped swab. Prevent these accidental abrasions from occurring again by not inserting a cotton-tipped swab or any other objects into your child’s ear canal. Not only do these swabs increase your child’s chances of suffering a scraped ear canal, but they can also push earwax further back into the canal. Instead, clean visible earwax from the external portion of the ear with a damp washcloth or paper towel.
- “Pediatric Otolaryngology”; Dr. Ralph Wetmore, et al.; 2000
- “The Portable Pediatrician”; Dr. William Sears, et al.; 2011
- MedlinePlus: Ruptured Eardrum