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How to Use Ear Drops Correctly

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Ear drops can treat many ear problems, including:

You can make your own ear drops, but the angle of the auditory tube (ear canal) can make instillation difficult. A second set of hands can help. When giving ear drops to a child, a second adult may be needed.

This article looks at some common types of ear drops, how they are used by people of different ages, possible side effects, and who should not use ear drops.

Uses and types of ear drops

Some of the more common uses and types of ear drops include:

  • Breaking earwax: Acid based cleaners
  • Prevention of swimming accidents: Alcohol and acetic acid solution
  • Infection: Antibiotics
  • Ear numbness: Anesthetic
Illustrated by Cindy Chung, Verywell

How to use ear drops?

Before using the ear drops, read the product instructions carefully. If they are not clear, ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist for instructions.

Go through the list of possible side effects. Check the expiration date and discard the expired drops. Also, throw them out if they appear contaminated.

Always wash your hands with soap and water before using ear drops.

Temperature problems

Ear drops are best used at room temperature. If they are too cold or too hot, they can make you feel dizzy and disoriented. Carry cold water drops in your pocket for 30 minutes to increase the temperature.

Use in adults and adolescents

These guidelines apply whether you are alone or helping someone:

  1. Fold the towel in half and place it on the kitchen or bathroom counter.
  2. Place the head on the towel with the affected ear up.
  3. Gently pull the earlobe go out to straighten the ear canal.
  4. Carefully place the recommended number of drops into the ear canal.
  5. Gently push the earlobe to help the fluid move deeper.
  6. Keep the head down for at least a minute or two so that the medicine can completely coat the canal.
  7. Repeat with the other ear if needed.

Use in children

This process can be more difficult in children, especially if they are young or a bit old. If possible, try to have two adults present: one to keep the child still and one to administer the medication.

The procedure is slightly different because children’s ear canals are shorter and have a more horizontal angle.

To give them safely:

  1. Fold a clean towel in half and place it on the floor or bed.
  2. Place the child with his or her head on a towel, with the affected ear up.
  3. One of you should keep the baby’s head still. If the child is especially fussy, try lying down and holding them while resting their head.
  4. Gently pull the earlobe go out (rather than out and up) to straighten the channel.
  5. Add the specified number of drops.
  6. Gently push the earlobe or insert a cotton ball into the ear.
  7. Hold the baby in this position for a few minutes.
  8. Repeat with the other ear if needed.

For babies, wrap them to keep them still. Toddlers may need to be cradled with their arms and legs fully restrained.

Side Effects

The ear is a fragile structure. It does not always respond well to medication. If you have any unusual reactions to the drops, call your healthcare provider.

This is especially true if you have had an allergic reaction to:

  • Burn
  • Itchy
  • Red
  • Rash in or around the ear

Although rare, ear drops can cause a serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. If left untreated, anaphylaxis can lead to coma, shock, heart or lung failure, and even death.

Allergy warning

Call 911 or get emergency care if you develop these symptoms after using ear drops:

  • Rash
  • Hive
  • Wheeze
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness
  • Swollen face
  • Floating
  • Arrhythmic heartbeat

Contraindications

If you have a perforated eardrum, do not use the drops unless your healthcare provider tells you to. It can allow potentially harmful chemicals into the middle ear. This includes antibiotic ear drops to treat infections.

Symptoms of rupture are:

  • Sting
  • Discharge from the ear
  • A popping sound immediately followed by pain and pressure relief

See your health care provider if you think an eardrum has perforated. And don’t put anything in your ear until it’s checked. In most cases, the eardrum will heal on its own within a few days.

Summary

Ear drops are a common treatment for ear-related problems. You can give them to yourself but it might be easier with help.

When giving ear drops to a child, two adults should accompany them if possible. That way, one person can keep the child still while the other gives them drops.

Read the directions, check the expiration date, and wash your hands thoroughly before using the drops. Side effects, allergic reactions and anaphylaxis may occur. Always get emergency medical attention if you have a severe allergic reaction.

frequently asked Questions

  • What are ear drops used for?

    Ear drops are topical medications used to treat or prevent conditions of the outer ear (auris externa) and the ear canal. Including:

    • Acid-based drops help break down earwax
    • Drops with alcohol and acetic acid prevent swimmer’s ear
    • Anesthetic for ear pain
    • Antibiotic drops to treat bacterial infections
    • Corticosteroid drops relieve ear infections

  • How do you make ear drops for adults and children?

    Place them with the head down and the affected ear facing up. For adults and adolescents, pull the earlobe go out to straighten the ear canal. For children, pull the earlobe go out.

    Then put the medicine in. Push the flap of the ear to help the medicine work its way.

  • What are the side effects of ear drops?

    Some ear drops can cause temporary burning, stinging, or itching. Ear drops that are too cold can make you feel dizzy.

    Seek emergency care if you develop a serious allergic reaction after using ear drops, including:

    • Hive
    • Rash
    • Arrhythmic heartbeat
    • Shortness of breath
    • Swelling of the face, lips, tongue or throat

  • When should you not use ear drops?

    Never use ear drops when your eardrum is punctured or if you are allergic to any of the ingredients. Antibiotic drops are for bacterial infections, not viral or fungal infections.

  • Are over-the-counter ear drops safe?

    Over-the-counter (OTC) drops for removing wax or swimmer’s ear are generally safe.

    However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises against OTC anesthetic ear drops. They only recommend medications prescribed by a healthcare provider.

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