How Is Fluid From the Ear Drained?

Updated February 21, 2017

Most of the major openings in the human head are interconnected by a series of hidden passages collectively known as sinuses. Under normal operation, these tubes facilitate the movement of various fluids around the head, allowing naturally occurring mucus to drain from the nose and ears into the throat. If sinuses become irritated, the flow of fluids may be inhibited, creating a feeling of pressure in the head, a headache, soar throat, or infections in the ears, nose and throat.

Middle Ear Fluid Drains Through Sinuses

While a variety of tubes inside the head work together to accomplish their drainage purposes, the specific tube that serves the ear is known as the Eustachian Tube. In normal operation, the Eustachian tube ventilates the middle and inner ear and allows natural mucus and fluids to drain into the throat. From time to time, however, the Eustachian tube becomes inflamed or blocked and this fluid becomes trapped inside the ear resulting in a sensation of fullness, loss of hearing, and ear pain. If the Eustachian tube becomes inflamed or blocked and the ear becomes infected, doctors may prescribe antihistamines, antibiotics, and allergy medication to reduce pressure and blockage in the Eustachian Tube; these medicines typically restore the tube to normal operation, allowing tapped fluid to drain into the throat.

Outer Ear Fluid Drains Outward

Fluid in the outer portion of the ear typically does not drain into the Eustachian Tube. Instead, fluids in the ear canal are blocked by the ear drum and can only escape the same way they entered the ear: through the ear canal and outer ear. Unlike the middle ear, the outer ear does not produce natural fluids that may become trapped. Instead, the ear canal is coated with a much thicker mucus commonly recognised as ear wax; if liquids, like those from a shower or swimming pool, enter the ear canal when a large collection of wax is present, the fluids may become trapped and unable to escape. In this condition, known as swimmer's ear, some swelling may further restrict the ability of the fluid to drain. A doctor can prescribe antibiotic ear drops that loosen the trapped fluid and allow it to drain, or health care professionals may administer a painless procedure known as an "irrigation" to clean the outer ear. In some very rare cases, fluid from the outer ear and ear canal may travel through a broken ear drum and into the middle ear; in these cases, the fluid continues on into the sinuses, eventually draining into the throat. Individuals who experience a drainage sensation in the throat while swimming or showering should consult a doctor, as this condition is usually associated with a severely damaged ear drum that may result in permanent hearing loss.

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About the Author

Keith Evans has been writing professionally since 1994 and now works from his office outside of Orlando. He has written for various print and online publications and wrote the book, "Appearances: The Art of Class." Evans holds a Bachelor of Arts in organizational communication from Rollins College and is pursuing a Master of Business Administration in strategic leadership from Andrew Jackson University.