While ear bleeding is often frightening, it is a common symptom of many ear-related issues. Some causes are minor and will resolve on their own, while others necessitate immediate medical care. Depending on the trigger, bleeding may not be the only symptom. Additionally, ear conditions are likely to progress into more serious conditions.
One of the most common causes of a bleeding ear is damage to the eardrum. A ruptured eardrum can cause blood or a mixture of blood and pus to run from the ear canal. Loud noises or direct trauma can damage this delicate body part, causing other issues like pain, hearing loss, vertigo, nausea, and a ringing sound. People who damage their eardrums are often unaware of the issue until symptoms develop.
Middle ear infections develop in the space behind the eardrum. If the infection is severe enough, fluid or pus builds up in the ear and may eventually rupture the eardrum. This causes bleeding, as well as pain, temporary hearing loss, and fluid or blood draining from the ear. As the infection develops, some people have issues balancing or difficulty falling asleep.
The ears commonly “pop” during altitude changes. While this is usually not dangerous, it can sometimes cause barotrauma. Most people experience barotrauma while flying or scuba diving, especially after changing altitudes too quickly. Initially, barotrauma may cause ear pain, fullness in the ear, loss of hearing, and dizziness. If it is severe enough or progresses without treatment, it may rupture the eardrum, leading to leakage of fluid or blood from the ear canal.
A regular trigger for ear injuries or infections is the insertion of a foreign object into the ear. Many people use tools like cotton swabs or matchsticks to clean their ears, damaging the ear or eardrum. Young children often insert objects into their ears, as well. In rare instances, an insect gets stuck in an ear.
Most ear cancer cases involve skin cancer on the outer ear. However, people who have had issues with chronic ear infections are more likely to develop cancer in the middle or inner ear. Bleeding is one possible sign of ear cancer. Others include headache, swollen lymph nodes, ringing in the ears, and partial facial paralysis.
Trauma to the Head
Certain head injuries can cause internal and ear bleeding. These injuries are life-threatening and require immediate medical attention. Most traumatic head injuries are the result of a fall, vehicle-related accident, or direct violence. In addition to physical symptoms like ear bleeding or loss of consciousness, people in these situations should be aware of any cognitive changes, including slurred speech or profound confusion.
When to Seek Help
Ear bleeding is almost always a sign that medical attention is necessary. Unless there is a visible and minor laceration near the exterior of the ear that is causing the issue, a medical professional should perform an examination. Even the minor causes of bleeding from the ear can progress without proper treatment.
To diagnose the cause of the ear bleeding, doctors will perform a full physical exam. If a fall or accident preceded the bleeding, they may order imaging tests to determine the extent of the damage. Experts may also use an otoscope to look into the ear for damage, debris, or another cause. Lab tests can detect infection.
While the bleeding itself is unlikely to cause problems, the underlying cause can worsen. Ruptured eardrums may develop infections, which could then become permanent hearing loss. Certain head injuries may have damaged the ear’s small and fragile bones. Other possible complications of ear bleeding include
- cognitive difficulties
- frequent headaches
- frequent vertigo
- balance issues
Treating ear bleeding begins with treating the underlying issue. Antibiotics can treat some ear infections, though viral infections will not respond to them. Ear tubes combat chronic infections by removing excess fluid. Doctors may also demonstrate how to safely suction fluids from their ears at home. Many ear conditions involve watchful waiting because they will often clear up over time.