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Ear Injury


  • Injuries to the outer ear, ear canal or eardrum

Types of Ear Injuries

  • Cut or Scratch. Most cuts of the outer ear do not need sutures.
  • Bruise. Most bruises of the outer ear just leave a purple mark. They heal on their own.
  • Blood Clot (Serious). Most of the outer ear is made of cartilage. A large blood clot (hematoma) can cut off the blood supply to the cartilage. It needs to be drained. If not, the ear may become deformed (boxer's ear).
  • Ear Canal Bleeding. Most are due to a scratch of ear canal. This can be caused by cotton swab, fingernail, or ear exam. Most stop bleeding on their own. Persistent bleeding needs to be seen.
  • Cotton Swab Injuries: Cotton swabs cause more than 10,000 ear injuries each year in the US. More than 2,000 are punctured eardrums. Never let young children put cotton swabs in their ears.
  • Punctured Eardrum. Most are due to long-pointed objects put in the ear canal. Examples are cotton swabs, pencils, sticks, straws, or wires.
  • Loss of Hearing (Serious). Caused by blunt trauma, such as a slap to the ear. Also, caused by explosions.

When To Call

Go to ER Now

  • Bleeding that won't stop after 10 minutes of direct pressure
  • Large deep cut that will need many stitches

Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

  • Skin is split open or gaping and may need stitches
  • Upper part of the ear is very swollen
  • Pointed object was put into the ear canal (such as a pencil, stick, or wire)
  • Clear fluid is draining from the ear canal
  • Skin is cut and No past tetanus shots. Note: tetanus is the "T" in DTaP, TdaP, or Td vaccines.
  • Severe pain and not better 2 hours after taking pain medicine
  • Age less than 1 year old
  • Outer ear injury looks infected (spreading redness)
  • You think your child has a serious injury
  • You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Contact Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Few drops of blood in the ear canal. Caused by a minor injury, cotton swab or ear exam.
  • Injury causes an earache or crying lasts more than 30 minutes
  • Hearing is less on injured side
  • Dirty cut or hard to clean and no tetanus shot in more than 5 years
  • Clean cut and no tetanus shot in more than 10 years
  • You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Contact Doctor During Office Hours

  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Minor ear injury
  • Pierced ear with minor injury

Care Advice

Bleeding - How to Stop:

  • For any bleeding, put direct pressure on the wound.
  • Use a gauze pad or clean cloth.
  • Press for 10 minutes or until the bleeding has stopped.

Clean the Wound:

  • Wash the wound with soap and water for 5 minutes.

Antibiotic Ointment:

  • For cuts and scrapes, use an antibiotic ointment (such as Polysporin). No prescription is needed.
  • Put it on the cut 3 times a day.
  • Do this for 3 days.
  • Cover large scrapes with a bandage. Change daily.

Pain Medicine:

  • To help with the pain, give an acetaminophen product (such as Tylenol).
  • Another choice is an ibuprofen product (such as Advil).
  • Use as needed.

What to Expect:

  • Minor ear wounds heal quickly.
  • Most often, cuts and scrapes heal in 2 or 3 days.

Preventing Ear Injuries:

  • Careful adult supervision of young children.
  • Never let young children put cotton swabs in their ears.

Call Your Doctor If:

  • Pain gets severe
  • You think your child needs to be seen
  • Your child becomes worse


Barton Schmitt MD, FAAP
Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.
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