How to Use Ear Drops Correctly

Steps to Give Ear Drops to Adults, Children, and Infants

Administering ear drops.
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Ear drops have many medical uses. Many ear disorders may be treated with ear drops when used appropriately, including: middle ear infections, swimmer's ear, excessive ear wax, ear pain, and swelling. No matter what they are for, ear drops will not work as desired if you do not instill them correctly.

To properly administer ear drops, you may need another person to help. While you can instill the ear drops into your own ear by yourself, for the ear drops to be most effective, you need to make sure to put the ear drops in at the correct angle.

Depending on the age of the person receiving the ear drops, you will also need to modify how you instill the ear drops, particularly if they are resisting. See the steps below according to age in order to maximize the effect of the ear drops.

Common Types of Ear Drops

  • antibiotics — used to treat infections in the ear (otitis media and swimmer's ear) and after having ear surgery. Common medications include: Xtoro, Ciprodex, and Floxin.
  • anesthetics — if the level of ear pain is not tolerable, your doctor may prescribe you an anesthetic ear drop (like antipyrine or benzocaine) to help manage your symptoms.
  • detergent drops — detergents are weak acids that can help break up ear wax. You can usually pick up something like Debrox (carbamide peroxide) from your pharmacy.
  • oils — you can use cotton balls dipped in mineral oil, glycerin, or other oils and placed in the ear canal for 10 to 20 minutes to soften ear wax that is thick or hard to aid in removing the ear wax.
  • homemade remedies — if your ear drum is intact, you can use mixtures of rubbing alcohol or vinegar to help dry out your ears to help prevent swimmer's ear. You should always discuss with your doctor before using any home remedy.

When Should I Avoid Ear Drops

Ear drops can be used in many situations. However, if you have a perforated ear drum or ear tubes, you should avoid ear drops unless approved by your doctor.

Many types of antibiotics or topical anesthetics are contraindicated because they can damage your inner. You will also want to avoid hydrocortisone (a steroid) if you have viral or fungal infections.

Symptoms of a ruptured eardrum include pain, ear drainage, or hearing a popping noise followed by a relief of pain and pressure as well as a change in your hearing. A type of antibiotic called quinolone (like Ciprodex and ofloxacin) are considered safe to use with a ruptured ear or ear tubes without damaging your inner ear. However, there is also a potential concern for developing a ruptured ear drum with the use of this medication and should only be used under advisement from your doctor.

What You'll Need

  • The ear drops, which should be at room temperature. Ear drops that are the wrong temperature (too cold, for instance) can make you feel dizzy and disoriented. An easy way to warm ear drops that are too cold is to carry them in your pocket for 30 minutes. Rolling the bottle in your hands will both warm the solution and help ensure it is well mixed.
  • A towel to place under the head because some of the ear drops may come back out of the ear.
  • Someone to assist you.

Before Starting

  • Read the instructions on the bottle carefully so you know how many drops to put in and whether you're putting them in one or both ears. Always follow your doctor's instructions.
  • Inspect the drops and check the expiration date. If they appear contaminated or are expired, don't use them.
  • Wash your hands before instilling ear drops
  • Ear drops do not work as well if your ear canal is not clear. If there is a lot of pus in the ear, you can try cleaning it out with a damp cloth. Do not insert anything like a Q-tip into the ear. If you are unable to clean the ear out, you can have your doctor clean out your ear. If your doctor says you do not have a perforated ear drum, you can also use a home ear irrigation kit.

Administering Ear Drops

For Adults and Teenagers

  1. Fold the towel in half and lay it out on a flat surface. Lay down on your side, with your head on the towel with your affected ear up. The person giving the drops should kneel or sit beside you.
  1. Gently pull the ear lobe out and up to straighten the auditory tube, and carefully put the number of drops prescribed into the ear one at a time.
  2. Gently push on the ear flap; if your doctor has instructed you to do so, put a cotton ball in the ear to plug it.
  3. The person receiving the drops should remain in this position for several minutes after the drops are instilled so that as much of the medication has a chance to coat the ear canal as possible.
  4. If the doctor has instructed drops to be put in both ears, the person can lay down on the opposite side and the process should be repeated as outlined above.

For Children

  1. Giving drops to young children who are unable to hold still while the drops are put in may require a third person. Fold a clean towel and place it on the floor, and have the child lay down with their head on the towel, affected ear up.
  2. If necessary, an adult should gently place their hands on both sides of the head to keep the child from sitting up suddenly or turning their head from side to side. Hugging your child may help them to be more comfortable and cooperative.
  3. The person who is administering the drops should kneel beside the child.
  4. Gently pull the ear lobe out and down (the auditory tube in children has a different angle than that of adults).
  5. Give the correct number of drops one at a time.
  6. Gently push on the flap of the ear or place a cotton ball inside of the ear to plug it.
  7. The child should remain in this position for a few minutes so that the medication can coat as much of the ear as possible.
  8. Repeat on the other ear if necessary.

For Infants and Toddlers

  1. Infants can be swaddled with a blanket (arms in). This not only keeps them still while you administer the drops but also comforts them. You will still need another person to gently hold their head. A clean towel can be placed under their head, or keep one handy to wipe away any excess medication.
  2. Toddlers can be held. The best way is to cradle them in your lap while sitting in a reclining chair or lying in bed. The person holding them should gently hold the toddler's head against their chest while the drops are given. Arms should be restrained to keep the child from grabbing their ears or the bottle of drops.
  3. The person giving the drops should softly pull the ear lobe out and down to straighten the auditory tube.
  4. Carefully give the correct number of drops prescribed, counting each drop one by one.
  5. Close ear flap or place a cotton ball in the ear canal.
  6. Remain in this position for as long as possible to allow the medication to coat the ear canal (up to a few minutes is best, but this may be too distressing for some infants or toddlers).

After Administering Ear Drops

  • Beware the signs of an allergic reaction (burning, itching, redness, swelling, difficulty breathing), and call a healthcare professional immediately if you suspect one.
  • Call your doctor if your condition gets worse after using the ear drops for a couple days.
  • Call your doctor with any significant, negative changes in your condition.
  • Call your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions about the specific medication you are receiving and its side effects.

A Word From Verywell

It is important to always consult your doctor when using ear drops. If you have a perforated ear drum or ear tubes, using unapproved ear drops may permanently damage your hearing. However, when safe to use, ear drops a great way to quickly relieve symptoms related to an ear infection or other ear-related disorders. Be sure to leave the ear drops in for several minutes to ensure adequate coverage. Remember the process is always easier with help, which if done correctly will help you on your way to better health faster.


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