How to Drain Fluid From the Middle Ear

Fluid in the middle ear is also known as serous otitis media. This condition happens for many reasons but most commonly comes from a middle ear infection. Other reasons could be allergies, sinus infections, viral infections, and even acid reflux.

As the pain and inflammation from the ear infection get better, the fluid doesn’t always leave the middle ear. The inflammation from the ear infection often causes the lining of the eustachian tube to swell shut. Sometimes you can treat this condition at home or with a simple prescription. Other times, surgical intervention is needed. 

This article discusses how to drain fluid from the middle ear.

An African-American man wearing glasses is holding his ear in pain.

Dmitry Marchenko / EyeEm / Getty Images 

Middle Ear Anatomy

The human ear is divided into three sections:

  • The outer ear
  • The middle ear
  • The inner ear

The middle ear is connected to your throat by a canal, or opening, known as the eustachian tube.

The main job of the eustachian tube is to keep the air pressure in the middle ear at the same level as your outer ear. When the eustachian tube cannot maintain equal pressure levels between inside and outside, you begin feeling the clogged-ear sensation. 

At-Home Treatment Options

In everyday life, the simple act of swallowing will open and close the eustachian tube, allowing it to drain any fluid buildup. However, when you have a cold, flu, or allergy symptoms flaring up, swallowing isn’t always enough, and your body needs a little extra help getting the eustachian tube open again.

Many people will try yawning, chewing, or drinking water to “pop” their ears when they feel full or plugged. Another great option is to put a warm compress over your ear or just behind the ear where the neck and the jaw meet.

Over-the-Counter Medications

Anti-Inflammatory

If you have ear pain, you don’t need to be tough and wait it out. It may be helpful to try an anti-inflammatory such as:

  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen sodium
  • Acetaminophen

While these won’t clear up an infection or remove the fluid from the inner ear, they will reduce the pain until enough fluid leaves the ear to stop being painful.

Decongestant

Taking a decongestant like Sudafed or Benadryl may help relieve some of the symptoms of the infection is caused by a sinus infection, allergies, or a cold.

These medications will help reduce the symptoms and the pain, but they do not treat the condition. Be sure to see a healthcare provider if your ear infection does not improve. Ask your healthcare provider if it is safe for you to take Sudafed, as this can affect blood pressure and heart rate.

Prescription Medication

If an infection causes fluid in your ear, your healthcare provider will prescribe an antibiotic. The most common antibiotic is amoxicillin-clavulanate unless you have a penicillin allergy. Those with penicillin allergies will likely be given azithromycin or cefdinir. 

Procedures

Those who don’t respond to antibiotics or continue to have problems with the middle ear may receive the recommendation for a surgical procedure called a myringotomy.

During this procedure, your healthcare provider will create a small hole in your eardrum. This hole will allow the fluid to drain. Many times while the healthcare provider is in there, they will place a tube to keep this from happening again.

This simple procedure is done in the healthcare provider's office without anything more than a topical anesthetic to keep the procedure pain-free.

A Word From Verywell

Ear infections in adults can lead to hearing loss if not treated properly. If you suspect you have an ear infection, you must speak to a healthcare provider to receive the appropriate treatment. Not only will they treat the reason for the fluid in your ear, but they will also try to prevent this from happening in the future.

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Article Sources
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  1. MedlinePlus. Otitis media with effusion. Updated July 2, 2021.

  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Middle-ear infection in adults.

  3. MedlinePlus. Ear tube insertion. Updated July 2, 2021.