Bleeding from the ear: Causes and treatments
Unless a person is sure they do not have a superficial cut, they should make an appointment with a doctor to determine why their ear is bleeding and undergo proper treatment.
Anatomy of the ear
Bleeding from the outer part of the ear usually occurs because of a superficial injury.
The ear is the organ responsible for hearing and helping regulate balance. The anatomy of the ear is divided into the outer, middle, and inner ear.
The outer ear is composed of the pinna or auricle, which is the visible outside part of the ear. The external auditory canal connects the outer ear to the middle ear.
The eardrum separates the outer ear from the middle ear. The middle ear, known as the tympanic cavity, is composed of three connected bones called ossicles and a canal to the back of the nose known as the Eustachian tube.
The ossicles transmit sound waves to the inner ear. The Eustachian tube, which is lined with mucus, regulates the pressure in the middle ear so that sound can be properly transmitted.
The inner ear has three distinct parts. Two of the three parts, the vestibule, and the semicircular canals help with balance. The remaining part of the inner ear is the cochlea, which contains nerve endings that help with hearing.
Any of the following may cause a bleeding ear:
- superficial skin injuries
- head injury or trauma
- ear infection
- ruptured eardrum
- barotrauma, or pressure changes on an airplane or while diving
- ear cancer
- an object in the ear canal
Bleeding from the outer ear usually occurs due to a superficial skin wound, such as a cut or injury. Bleeding from deeper in the ear can be caused by other conditions.
Superficial skin injuries
Minor trauma to the skin, such as a cut or wound, may cause bleeding from the outer ear.
In this case, there will probably be no other symptoms other than minor pain at the site of the injury.
A skin injury may also occur if a person uses a Q-tip or tries to clean out earwax aggressively. An irritated or infected ear piercing may also cause bleeding.
Object in the ear
An object in the ear is often more noticeable to an adult than a child. It is not uncommon for small children to stick candy, toys, beads, and other small objects in their ears and not complain.
Any object in the ear, including small insects, may cause bleeding, infection or discomfort. Typically, ear pain will resolve when the object is no longer in the ear.
Head injury or trauma
A head injury may lead bleeding from the ears.
More severe injuries or traumas to the head may cause bleeding from the ears. These types of injuries are often due to an accident, a fall, or a sports injury.
In cases when bleeding from the ears accompanies a head injury, the person may have a concussion.
Symptoms of a concussion can include:
- ringing in the ears
- nausea and vomiting
- temporary loss of consciousness
- dazed appearance
Bleeding from the ears after a head injury may be the result of a skull fracture, severe trauma, or other serious injury, so a person will need immediate medical attention.
Ear infections are more common in children than adults, but they can affect people of any age.
These infections can occur in any part of the ear. Infections of the middle and outer ear can cause bleeding from the ear in addition to the following symptoms:
- ear discharge
- ear pain
- hearing changes
- neck pain
The eardrum is the thin membrane separating the middle ear from the outer ear. It can be torn or ruptured. People may tear or rupture their eardrum without realizing they have done so, but it may also cause pain. Infection and injury are common causes.
Other symptoms of a ruptured eardrum may include:
- ear pain
- ringing ear
- ear discharge
- fullness of the ear
- feeling of spinning, known as vertigo
- hearing loss or changes
The sensation of ears popping is common as the altitude changes. Barotrauma is a more extreme injury to the ear as a result of rapid changes in pressure and altitude from activities such as diving or flying.
In addition to bleeding from the ear, symptoms of barotrauma may include the following:
- ear pain
- pressure in the ears
- hearing loss
- ringing in the ears
Symptoms of barotrauma start nearly immediately after a rapid change in altitude or pressure.
However, people with chronic ear infections that persist or recur for 10 or more years do have a higher risk of developing cancer in the middle or inner ear. If a person has cancer of the middle or inner ear, they may experience bleeding as well as the following symptoms:
- hearing loss
- swollen lymph nodes
- partial facial paralysis
- ringing in ears
When to see a doctor
Any instances of bleeding from the ear with no obvious cause should be addressed by a doctor.
A doctor should evaluate all cases of bleeding inside the ear to ensure appropriate treatment.
If a person experiences ear bleeding as a result of a head injury, trauma, or sports injury, they need immediate emergency medical attention. They may have a skull fracture, severe head trauma, other serious injuries to the ear, or a concussion.
In cases of ear bleeding caused by an outer ear infection or minor injury, a person should still see a doctor for diagnosis and proper treatment.
Ear bleeding caused by a superficial cut or an object removed from the ear may not require medical attention.
However, if someone has an object in their ear that they cannot easily see, they should seek a medical professional's help to remove it safely.
Symptoms of infection such as pain, redness, swelling, discharge or fever also require medical attention.
Diagnosis and treatment
A doctor will diagnose ear bleeding based on a visual examination and the accompanying symptoms.
A doctor may order imaging tests to confirm an injury or abnormality to the ear.
Treatment for ear bleeding depends on what caused it. Typical treatments include:
- antibiotics for ear infections
- protecting the ears from water and debris
- anti-inflammatory and pain medications
- warm compresses
- hospital observation or treatment for concussion and head injuries
If a person has a cut or injury causing bleeding to the outer ear, they should keep the area clean and avoid picking at the injury until it has healed.
In some cases of serious injuries, more involved treatments may be needed, including surgery and hospitalization.
If the underlying cause of the bleeding is minor and treated promptly, there may not be any lasting complications. However, some severe ear infections or injuries may have long-term complications.
These complications can include:
- lasting hearing loss
- changes in language processing
- permanent ringing in ears
- balance problems
- lasting vertigo
- permanent hole in the eardrum
In general, the outlook for ear bleeding is favorable. Most often, ear bleeding resolves without lasting complications as long as individuals receive prompt and proper treatment.
In cases of severe infections or injuries, a person may experience hearing loss and balance issues.
Bleeding from a superficial cut or small injury to the outer ear may not require medical attention. However, for any bleeding within the ear canal, it is best to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.