What does it mean if your ear is bleeding?

Last update on Jun, 24, 2021

Ear bleeding with and without pain

If blood comes out of the ear, it is sometimes, but not always, associated with pain. It can occur when a crust of blood loosens in the ear. Sudden ear bleeding occurs and some blood may also flow out of the ear canal. Sometimes there is also blood in the wax if the crust of blood mixes with it. 

Of course, it can be frightening when ear bleeding and excessive pressure in ear appear at the same time. The ears are particularly sensitive to pressure because the skin in the ear canal is thin, well supplied with blood and tender. A ear full of blood is quite a rare event and it is linked to recognizable external events. Extreme pain occurs when the eardrum is injured for example due to a head injury or an acoustic trauma.

Why is your ear bleeding?

A small sore is one of the most common causes of ear bleeding, most commonly caused by cleaning the ears with objects such as cotton swabs. The perforation of the eardrum or severe head injuries caused by blunt force from impact, blow or extreme pressure, such as a bang or an explosion, are less common. Water pressure or a violent side impact with the head on a water surface can also lead to ear bleeding.

Ear bleeding after cleaning with cotton bud

If a cotton bud penetrates too deeply into the ear while cleaning the ears, it can lead to a small injury with blood. This can happen because frequent use of cotton buds puts a lot of strain on the thin skin deep in the ear canal. Small cracks in the skin form quickly, which can bleed profusely due to the good blood circulation in the ears and only heal very slowly, as the thin skin regenerates very slowly due to the non-existent layer of tissue under the skin. It is therefore important to remove the wax carefully so that the ear skin is not damaged. 

Otitis media with bloody discharge

With purulent otitis media, blood often collects in the ear after a ventilation tube operation. It is a surgically guided incision that the doctor makes on the eardrum to drain pus in the middle ear through the ear canal. Wound secretions and blood then mix with one another. In the case of otitis media, this is called bloody discharge.

Small eardrum injures

If the eardrum has burst, little or no blood flows out of the ear. The eardrum is well protected, deep at the end of the ear canal. Although it is a thin membrane, it is kept stable by internal tissue fibers and contains only a few blood vessels. This means that there is little bleeding in the event of an eardrum injury. An eardrum is quite robust and minor injuries usually heal without any problems. 

Consequences of a fall

If blood flows from the ear after a violent fall because the head had to suffer a hard impact, this is alarming. Falls with effects on the head should always be examined by a doctor for suspected head trauma, concussions or even a fracture of the base of the skull, regardless of whether they are young or old. However, a corresponding abrasion on or near the ear can also be the cause of the blood flow.

Increased high blood pressure

In hypertensive patients with acutely high blood pressure, it often happens that they perceive the blood flowing in the vessels of the ear as noise . The ears contain many blood vessels, which is why increased blood pressure can actually be heard as noise due to the sensitive sensors of the hearing organ.

Ear bleeding in babies and children

If you see blood in the ear in a child, the cause may be an otitis media. Further indications are severe exhaustion and fever in children. The blood then comes from small injuries on the eardrum, which beats small, bloody festering vesicles. The wound secretion and pus then flow through these small openings, which means that the pain and discomfort abruptly subside.

Blood rushing in ears: Ringing in ears and blood pressure

If you hear supposed blood rushing in your ear, it could also be tinnitus . In the case of extreme stress, however, one can also  speak of a so-called sudden hearing loss with, in the worst case, in-depth hearing loss. Tinnitus can persist as a ringing noise and is perceived as very distressing in many cases.

When should you see a doctor?

A doctor should be consulted in case of:

  • Violent falls affecting the head
  • Severe pain in the ear area
  • Persistent heavy bleeding for a short period of time or if the bleeding does not stop lightly for more than two days
  • Oozing ears with odorous wound secretions
  • Drowsiness, dizziness 
  • Numbness and loud noises in the ears (tinnitus)

Diagnosis

The treating doctor will take ear bleeding as a serious symptom and then draw up a detailed anamnesis. First, family and personal previous illnesses are queried, as well as other currently acute symptoms. In the case of severe ear bleeding, questions are also asked about violence caused by an accident or by third parties. Next, the ear canal is examined with an otoscope . In this way, an inflammation or a damaged eardrum can already be recognized. However, if the ear bleeding comes from an accident, a CT scan of the skull is performed to diagnose possible skull fractures.

Complications

Different complications can arise if the cause of ear bleeding is not treated. The complication that can occur depends on the diagnosis and symptoms. An untreated otitis media can cause life-threatening bone suppuration, which causes bone damage to the skull and jaw. A head trauma can lead to complete deafness as a complication if a skull fracture occurs at the ear and the inner ear fluid of the organ leaks.  Head trauma with blood flowing out of the ear can also indicate an increased risk of stroke.

A damaged or burst eardrum can be irreversibly damaged, so that its function is disturbed, no longer vibrates properly or no longer grows together, leaving holes in the eardrum. A hole in the eardrum can let water get in ear and lead to more serious otitis media. Wounds in the ear canal area can become infected, which in the worst case can lead to severe chronic ear canal inflammation .

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