If your ear has been oozing pus for several weeks, it's important you get the right treatment. You may have an ear infection that could damage your hearing.
We've brought together the best research about ear infection with discharge and weighed up the evidence about how to treat it. You can use our information to talk to your doctor and decide which treatments are best for you.
If your ear has been leaking pus for several weeks, you may have a long-term (chronic) ear infection, which has made a hole in your eardrum.
You can get a long-term ear infection if you have a short-term (acute) ear infection that doesn't completely clear up.
The tube leading into your ear is called your ear canal. Stretched across the inner end of your ear canal is your eardrum. Your eardrum vibrates when sound waves reach it. Your brain turns sound waves into sounds that you can hear.
Ear infections can make a hole in your eardrum. If you have an infection, you can get swelling and a build-up of fluid in your middle ear. Your middle ear is the part of your ear behind your eardrum. The pressure of the fluid in your middle ear can make a hole in your eardrum. Doctors call this a perforation.
Some people get a hole in their eardrum for other reasons: for example, from hearing a very loud noise. They can then get a long-term infection because of the hole. This is because your eardrum acts as a barrier to stop germs (bacteria) going into your middle ear. But when your eardrum has a hole in it, bacteria can easily get into your middle ear.
If you have an ear infection with discharge, you'll get pus coming out of your ear. It might go away for a while and then come back. If you have had pus coming from your ear for more than two weeks, you have a long-term infection. Doctors call this chronic suppurative otitis media.
Some people get holes in their eardrum that are not infected and rarely leak pus. And some people get an ear infection without having a hole in their eardrum. But these are different kinds of problems and are treated differently.
Ear infections happen to adults and children. But they're more common in children. That's because their ear canals are shorter, so it's easier for germs to get inside and cause an infection.
We don't know for certain why some people get long-term ear infections with discharge. But there are some things that make it more likely. These are called risk factors. They include:
Getting a lot of infections like colds and coughs
Living in overcrowded housing
Poor hygiene: for example, not having clean water for washing and cleaning
Eating a poor-quality diet.
Bacteria are tiny organisms. There are lots of different types. Some are harmful and can cause disease. But some bacteria live in your body without causing any harm.
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