Does Your Child Have Ear Drainage with Tubes? What It Is and When to Worry

My son had tubes placed in his ears at 18 months old due to chronic ear infections. After one year, they are still in place and we have had a great experience since the procedure.

Contrary to popular belief, a child can still get ear infections with tubes, however the tubes do their best to drain the fluid out of the ear so excess pressure and infection can’t occur.

Recently, my son (now 2.5 years old) has experienced excessive drainage with his ear tubes as I spot greenish mucus fluid draining from his ears constantly.

I spoke to my pediatrician regarding this symptom and he assured me that it is normal and the tubes doing their job. This made me feel so much better, so I wanted to share my experience with you all.

I got some expert quotes from healthcare professionals in this field to help you understand that ear drainage from tubes can be normal, but there are times when you should consult a physician.

Ear Drainage with Tubes in Children: Explained

Children commonly experience ear infections due to their underdeveloped Eustachian tubes, which are responsible for draining fluid from the middle ear into the back of the throat. When these tubes are compromised, as is often the case in kids, fluid can accumulate behind the eardrum, leading to infection and discomfort.

To address this issue, ear tubes (tympanostomy tubes) are often inserted into the eardrum in a minor surgical procedure, which facilitates proper drainage and ventilation.

Causes of Ear Drainage with Tubes in Children

Dr. Tez Pratap Singh from states that “Ear drainage with tubes typically occurs when there is a buildup of fluid or infection within the middle ear.” This can happen due to:

  • Infection: Bacteria or viruses can cause infections in the middle ear, leading to the accumulation of pus and fluid.
  • Excess Fluid: In some cases, fluid might build up without an active infection, often due to allergies, colds, or changes in atmospheric pressure.

Drainage from ear tubes typically occurs when there would have been a build of of middle ear fluid or an ear infection. Often it will occur with a cold or upper respiratory tract infection.

It can look like mucus and at times be foul smelling. Less commonly, drainage can have a bloody component.

With my son, his drainage smelled SO bad. It was thick, green, and gross. Multiple times a day, I would (very carefully) have to go in his ear with a Q-Tip to clean all of the mucus out.

Is Ear Drainage Normal or a Cause for Concern?

While some degree of fluid drainage is normal immediately after tube insertion, persistent or recurrent drainage can indicate an underlying problem.

“Clear fluid or slightly murky drainage is generally considered normal and might be a sign that the tubes are working effectively. However, thick, discolored, or foul-smelling drainage may suggest an infection that requires medical attention.” states Dr. Singh.

Ear drainage may simply be a sign that the ear tubes are doing it’s job, which is to drain excess fluid out of the ear so that your child does NOT get an ear infection. While it may look gross, it’s not a cause for concern.

Without these tubes, all of the mucus that you see would be sitting inside your child’s ear!

Parental Actions and When to Seek Medical Help

Dr. Nicole Aaronson, MD, board certified pediatric otolaryngologist states that “Ear drainage is typically managed with antibiotic drops. In our practice, we ask parents of ear tubes patients who note drainage to call us.”

“We will send drops to the pharmacy, and the drainage will usually resolve within days without making the family come into the office. If drainage does not resolve within the week of drops, we ask families to call us back.

We typically can avoid an oral antibiotic when drops are in place. I would change drops, suction out the ear, or culture the drainage, prior to proceeding with an oral antibiotic.” states Dr. Aaronson, MD.

Parents should keep the following in mind:

  1. Observation: Mild, clear fluid drainage might not be a cause for immediate concern. However, it’s essential to monitor the color, consistency, and frequency of drainage.
  2. Consultation: If drainage persists for more than a few days, is accompanied by fever, pain, or changes in hearing, parents should consult a pediatrician.
  3. Medical Attention: Thick, yellow, green, or bloody drainage, as well as signs of pain, fever, or hearing loss, should prompt an immediate visit to a healthcare provider.

“In most cases, ear drainage from tubes is part of the healing process, and mild, clear drainage is generally considered normal. However, any significant changes in color, consistency, or accompanying symptoms should be addressed promptly.” states Dr. Singh.

Parents should consult a pediatrician to ensure the well-being of their child’s ears and overall health.

How My Experience with Ear Drainage Turned Out

I just want to add that my son was experiencing drainage that was green, thick, and smelled terrible! However, I wasn’t concerned because he was acting fine and didn’t have a fever.

I think it’s important to note how a child is acting when they are experiencing something like this. Just because the literature may say that foul-smelling, discolored drainage could be a bad sign, that does NOT mean it is!

Once we started with the antibiotic drops to make sure there was no infection, the drainage cleared up in 2-3 days.

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