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What Causes Drainage from Ear Tubes?

By Madeleine A.
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Drainage from ear tubes is caused from post-operative fluid build up. Typically, the drainage from ear tubes is pink and watery, but generally does not have an odor. The placement of ear tubes into the middle ear is called myringotomy with tube placement, and is performed when frequent middle ear infections occur in children. This type of drainage is normal and expected after surgery.

When repeated bacterial infections occur in the middle ear, scar tissue can form and permanently affect a child's hearing. Although antibiotics are usually effective in treating middle ear infections, using them too often can create resistant strains of bacteria. The placement of ear tubes discourages the development of ear infections and may even improve a child's hearing.

Since drainage from ear tubes can last for a few days after surgery, parents should not become alarmed unless the drainage becomes thick and discolored. In addition, if the drainage from ear tubes produces a foul odor or is bloody, the physician should be notified. These may be symptoms of a post-operative infection, and might need to be treated with antibiotics.

Following a myringotomy procedure, the physician will usually prescribe an antibiotic drop to be placed in both ears for approximately three days. Generally, however, if the child shows evidence of pain related to the drops, they can be discontinued on the advice of the physician. Although these ear drops generally do not cause severe pain, they can cause discomfort and a burning sensation.

Sometimes, even in spite of the myringotomy, a child will get ear infections. In children who are too young to talk, parents might notice their child is crying or pulling on his ear when an infection is present. This, however, does not always indicate an infection. If drainage or bleeding is coming out of the tubes, or if fever is present, infection is likely. In addition to antibiotics, acetaminophen can be give to the child if he has a fever or has pain.

When a child experiences drainage from ear tubes, he should be evaluated by the surgeon who performed the procedure. In addition, drainage from ear tubes is typically not a long-standing problem, because after about one year, the tubes are usually forced out from the eardrum. This happens because the ear perceives the tubes as a foreign body, and tries to reject them. As children reach their teenage years, ear infections usually become less frequent.

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