Treating a Discharging Ear

The most common reasons for discharging or infected ears is a hole in the eardrum.   A grommet can also be regarded as a hole in the eardrum.  To stop the infection behind the eardrum, which is producing the discharge, you must:

  • Make sure no water gets in the ears.
  • Get the antibiotic ear drops through the hole in the eardrum to where the infection is

The eight points below tell you how to do these two things:

  1. To stop water from getting in the ears, use cotton wool covered with Vaseline as a plug in the ear canal when showering or bathing.
  2. NO swimming (especially hot pools) if the ear is discharging as this will prolong the infection.
  3. If the ear has been discharging but is now dry, use earplugs when swimming.
  4. When putting ear drops in the ear, first mop out gently any pus you can see by the method of dry wisping:       
    Wash hands before and after the procedure
    Lightly moisten fingers with tap water
    Using index finger and thumb, roll single-ply tissue into a wick
    Hold in ear for several seconds to absorb debris – remove and discard
    Repeat the process five or six times, encouraging the child to lie still.
    Establish a routine of nose-blowing, ear-popping, then dry wisping before ear drop insertion.
  5. Someone else must put the drops in the patient’s ear as you cannot correctly put ear drops in yourself.
  6. To put ear drops in, get the patient to lie on his/her back and turn their head, so the wet ear is upwards.   Then gently pull the ear canal open so you can look down it.
  7. You need to put about 3-4 drops into the open ear canal and then gently rub the soft tissue in front of the ear to push the drops through the hole in the eardrum.  Repeat three times a day.
  8. Keep the patient lying with the infected ear up-most for about five minutes (or as long as possible in young children) to let the drops seep in; then, they can sit up with a little bit of cotton wool in the ear canal to mop up any excess drops.

A discharge persisting for more than a week (or associated with pain) should be assessed and managed by an Ear Nurse Specialist or ENT Surgeon.   A microscope and suction device are used to clean the ear(s) thoroughly and repeatedly.

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