The fluids in the human body are in a constant state of flux. Systems and mechanisms work endlessly to maintain the correct concentrations for each of the countless compartments. Fluid discharges from the body are common, and a clear discharge is generally not a serious problem; however, it can sometimes be a sign of an issue requiring medical evaluation.
What is Discharge?
A flow of fluid, from the nose or the vagina, for instance, is discharge. These bodily fluids range in texture and color, depending on location and cause. Some are yellow or green and might indicate an infection. Others may have a reddish or brownish tinge, which usually means there is blood present. Clear discharges, depending on what part of the body they are coming from, are not always a symptom, yet are sometimes a sign of a medical condition.
From the Nose
The term doctors use for a clear, watery discharge, or mucus, from the nose, is “rhinorrhea” or “rhinitis”. Although it is mostly water, this discharge also contains antibodies, proteins, and dissolved salts. Large amounts of clear discharge from the nose are usually symptomatic of seasonal allergies or a cold or coming into contact with an irritant. Breathing in cold air causes a clear discharge due to the creation of water condensation in the nose as the air warms in the nasal passages.
From the Vagina
The cervix, vagina, and uterus produce fluids that lead to some type of vaginal discharge in most women. The color, consistency, amount, and smell of the discharge are key signs as to whether the discharge is completely normal or due to an infection or other issue. A clear, stretchy discharge resembling raw egg whites is a sign of ovulation. The discharge may be heavier during pregnancy, sexual stimulation, or if the woman uses contraceptives.
From the Penis
Males can experience a clear discharge from their penis, although it does not always indicate an infection or medical issue. The Cowper’s glands produce a clear fluid, pre-ejaculate, that is secreted from the tip of the penis during arousal. A clear fluid discharge can be a sign of urinary tract infection or a sign of chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Medical intervention is crucial for both issues.
From the Ear
While some discharge from the ear is normal, a clear odorless discharge could be due to a foreign item, an ear canal injury, redness and swelling of the external ear canal, or an upper respiratory infection. People who have this type of discharge may also experience difficulty hearing, earache, itchiness in or just outside of the ear, ringing in the ears, or a feeling of fullness in the ear.
From the Nipple
Milky, green, or brown discharges from the nipple are normal. However, a bloody or clear discharge can be a sign of breast cancer if it affects a single breast or duct, is spontaneous, and develops in addition to a lump in the breast. Noting the color and consistency of nipple discharge is an important step. Physicians use mammograms and ultrasounds to determine a cause.
From the Eye
Excessive tearing or a clear discharge from the eye can be a sign of a blocked tear duct, viral pink eye, or excess matter manufactured during sleep. However, profuse tearing can also be a sign that the body is fighting seasonal allergies or infections or a symptom of an issue with the tear drainage system.
From a Wound
Bleeding usually accompanies cuts, scrapes, and punctures. Red platelets clot the wound to prevent additional blood loss and protect the injury until a scab forms. Often, a clear fluid or discharge seeps out around the injury during the healing process. These are white blood cells — macrophages — that clean out the wound and assist with repair.
Cerebrospinal Fluid Leak
Although it is a rare symptom and not usually serious, signs of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak includes drainage of clear fluid from the ears or nose. CSF is the watery fluid that circulates throughout the spinal cord and brain. A hole or tear in the outermost layer of the brain’s membranous coverings, the meninges, leads to CSF leaks. This issue may appear following a spinal tap procedure, spinal anesthesia, a head injury, or sinus surgery.
When To Seek Medical Attention
If discharge changes color or consistency or develops a strong or unpleasant odor, it could be a sign of an infection or other medical issue. People who develop a fever, swelling, or additional symptoms after noticing a clear discharge should see a medical health professional for testing and treatment.