Otorrhea - A guide to Hearing Loss

This is the name given to a condition in which the child has a continuous discharge of fluid from the outer and middle ear. There are two forms of otorrhea: acute or chronic and this can be a symptom of a serious underlying problem. It can also result in hearing loss.

This condition affects both adults and children.

Causes of otorrhea

There are several causes of otorrhea which include:

  • Head cold
  • Swimmer’s ear (over exposure to water)
  • Otitis media
  • Otitis externa
  • Object in the ear (common in children)
  • Barotrauma
  • Blow to the ear
  • Head injury

Acute otorrhea is defined as lasting for up to three weeks.

Chronic otorrhea lasts for six weeks or longer.

Anything which falls between these two is classed as ‘sub-acute’.

Some of these causes are more serious than others: for example a head injury can result in a leakage of cerebrospinal fluid from the brain. Another possible cause is cholesteatoma.

Minor causes of otorrhea include colds, ear infections and the presence of an object within the ear. But untreated or chronic ear infections are the most likely cause of otorrhea.

The colour and consistency of the ear discharge depends upon what has caused otorrhea.

Treatment for otorrhea

If you (or your child) have acute otorrhea then treatment will involve your GP cleaning your ear of this discharge using a special suction device. Once this has been done he/she will examine the ear in detail to try and detect the site of the discharge.

Do not try and clean your ear (or your child’s) by washing it out with water. The reason for this is that this can put undue pressure on the ear drum which may perforate this and cause the infection to spread deeper into the ear. Your GP will prescribe antibiotics and will advise you to avoid swimming or getting your ear wet during the course of your treatment. Grommets are an option if your child has this condition.

If the condition has occurred as a result of an object within the ear then this will be removed by your GP or a specialist. A specialist will also be involved if the condition is a result of a head injury or a tumour.

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