Why Is My Ear Bleeding?

If your ear is bleeding, it could be caused by anything from something stuck inside to a torn eardrum. The bleeding can come from the outer, middle, or inner part of your ear.

The outer ear is the part you see. It pulls sound into a tube called the ear canal that connects with the inner ear.

The middle ear sends sounds to the inner ear. Part of your middle ear, the eustachian tube, keeps the pressure inside balanced. A thin layer of tissue called the eardrum separates the outer and middle ear.

The inner ear converts sound vibrations into nerve signals for the brain. This part of the ear also helps you stay balanced.

Most causes of bleeding from your ear, such as ear infections or sudden air pressure changes, aren't serious. But some are, like head injuries or very rare cancers.

Ear Infection

Bacteria or viruses in the middle ear can cause an ear infection. It makes the middle ear swell up and causes fluid to build up behind your eardrum. Pressure from the buildup can break open the eardrum, and fluid or blood might leak out.

If an ear infection is the cause of your bleeding, you might also have symptoms such as:

Ear infections often clear up on their own in a week or two without treatment. An over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help with pain and fever. Sometimes doctors prescribe antibiotics to treat ear infections.

Call your doctor if:

  • Pain is severe
  • Fluid, pus, or blood leaks out of your ear
  • You have a fever

Object in the Ear

A cotton swab, toy, or something else small can get stuck in your ear and cause an injury. Children are most likely to put something into their ear.

Other symptoms of an object in the ear include pain and hearing loss.

If you can grab the edge of the object, try to remove it with tweezers. Or, tilt your head to the side to make it fall out. If the object doesn't budge with these methods, get medical help.

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Changes in Air or Water Pressure

A sudden pressure change, like when you land in a plane or go scuba diving, pulls your eardrum in and causes feelings of stuffiness and pain. It can lead to injuries that doctors call barotrauma.

If the change in pressure is severe, your eardrum can tear. Fluid or blood can leak from the ear.

Other symptoms of barotrauma include:

To prevent barotrauma when you fly, you can try to keep the pressure steady in your ears by chewing gum, yawning, or swallowing. Or, pinch your nose and try to blow out through it to "pop" your ears open.

The problem should go away shortly after you land. If it doesn't, take a decongestant to open the blocked eustachian tube. In some cases, your doctor may need to make a small cut in the eardrum to even out the pressure and drain fluid.

Call your doctor if:

  • Blood or fluid leaks from your ear
  • You have a fever
  • The pain is severe

Torn Eardrum

Several things can cause your eardrum to tear:

  • Ear infection
  • Sudden pressure changes, like when you land in a plane or go scuba diving
  • Head injuries
  • Objects in your ear
  • Very loud noises

With a ruptured eardrum, you may have fluid that drains from the ear that can be clear, filled with pus, or bloody. You may also have:

  • Ear pain that comes on suddenly and goes away quickly
  • Ringing in the ear
  • Hearing loss
  • A feeling like you're spinning, called vertigo

Most eardrum tears heal on their own in a few weeks. If your symptoms don't improve, your doctor can put a patch over the hole to close it. You might need surgery to plug the hole with a tiny piece of your own skin.

See your doctor if you have:

  • Pain
  • Hearing loss
  • Fluid draining from your ear

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Head Injury

Ear bleeding after a hit or blow to the head could be from bleeding in the brain. This is a medical emergency because there is a risk of brain damage. Go to an emergency room or call 911 right away.

A severe head injury can cause a headache and these other symptoms:

  • Loss of consciousness for a few seconds to a few minutes
  • Feeling dazed, confused, or disoriented
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Feeling tired or sleepy
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Trouble sleeping, or sleeping more than usual
  • Dizziness or loss of balance

Cancer

Cancer in the ear is very rare. Doctors in the U.S. diagnose only about 300 cases a year. It usually starts as skin cancer on the outer ear. If you don't get treatment, it can spread to the ear canal and deeper into the ear.

If cancer is the cause of your ear bleeding, you might also have these symptoms:

  • Hearing loss
  • Ear pain
  • Fluid draining from the ear

The main treatment for ear cancer is surgery to remove the tumor. After surgery, you may get radiation to kill any remaining cancer cells.

Call your dermatologist if you notice a scaly patch of skin on your ear that doesn't heal. This can sometimes be a sign of skin cancer.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on May 20, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

American Family Physician: "Foreign Bodies in the Ear, Nose, and Throat."

Cedars-Sinai: "Ear Barotrauma."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Head Injury."

Harvard Medical School: "Barotrauma," "Perforated Eardrum."

KidsHealth: "Your Ears."

Mayo Clinic: "Ear infection (middle ear)," "Foreign object in the ear: First aid," "Ruptured eardrum (perforated eardrum)."

MD Anderson: "Q&A: Ear and Temporal Bone Cancer."

Mount Sinai: "Ear Barotrauma."

National Health Service (UK): "Middle ear infection (otitis media)," "Overview: Severe head injury."

Seattle Children’s: "Ear Infection Questions."

Stanford Children's Health: "Anatomy and Physiology of the Ear."

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