How to Use Ear Drops Correctly

Step-by-Step Instructions for Adults and Children

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Knowing how to use ear drops can help with clogged ears and other painful conditions. Ear drops are generally safe when used properly. They are available as both over-the-counter medications and as the more recommended prescription drugs. They can be used to treat ear problems that include:

This article looks at some common types of ear drops, how they're used on people of different ages, possible side effects, and who shouldn't use ear drops.

How to use ear drops correctly

Verywell / Cindy Chung

Uses and Types of Ear Drops

How to use ear drops will depend on the type. You'll want to follow the instructions exactly. Some of the more common uses and types of ear drops include:

  • Breaking up ear wax: Acid-based detergents
  • Preventing swimmer's ear: Alcohol and acetic acid solutions
  • Bacterial infections: Antibiotics
  • Numbing ear pain: Anesthetics

Corticosteroid ear drops also are available. They are used to treat ear inflammation.

How to Use Ear Drops

Before using ear drops, give the product instructions a thorough read. If they're not clear, ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist for directions.

Look over the list of possible side effects. Check the expiration date and throw away expired drops. Also, throw them out if they appear to be contaminated.

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

Temperature Matters

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

Usage in Adults and Teens

These instructions apply whether you're alone or helping someone:

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

Usage in Children

The process can be harder in children, especially if they're young or squeamish. If possible, try to have two adults present: one to keep the child still and one to put the drops in.

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

To safely give them drops:

  1. Fold a clean towel in half and place it on the floor or bed.
  2. Have the child lay their head on the towel, affected ear up.
  3. One of you should hold the child's head still. If the child is especially fidgety, try lying down and cradling them while restraining the head.
  4. Gently pull the earlobe out and down (rather than out and up) to straighten the canal.
  5. Put in the prescribed number of drops.
  6. Gently push on the flap of the ear or plug the ear with a cotton ball.
  7. Keep the child in this position for several minutes.
  8. Repeat on the other ear if needed.

For an infant, try swaddling them to keep them still. Toddlers may need to be cradled with their arms and legs fully restrained.

It's possible to give yourself ear drops but the angle of the auditory tube (ear canal) can make it tricky. A second set of hands can help. When giving ear drops to a child, a second adult may be necessary.

Side Effects

The ear is a delicate structure. It doesn't always respond well to medications. If you have any abnormal reactions to the drops, call your healthcare provider.

This is especially true if you have an allergic reaction with:

  • Burning
  • Itching
  • Redness
  • A rash in or around the ear

While rare, it's possible for some ear drops to trigger a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. The corticosteroid betamethasone, for example, has been known to cause this reaction. If it's not treated, 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
  • Hives
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness
  • Facial swelling
  • Lightheadedness
  • Rapid heartbeat


Contraindications

If you have a ruptured eardrum, don't use drops unless your healthcare provider says to. It can allow potentially damaging chemicals into the middle ear. This includes antibiotic ear drops for an infection.

Symptoms of a rupture are:

  • A sharp pain
  • Drainage from the ear
  • A popping noise immediately followed by the relief of pain and pressure

See your healthcare provider if you think an eardrum is ruptured. And don't put anything in your ear until it's been checked out. In most cases, the eardrum will repair itself within a matter of days.

Summary

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

When giving ear drops to a child, have two adults present if possible. That way, one can hold the child still while the other gives them the drops.

Read the instructions, check the expiration date, and wash your hands well before using the drops. Side effects, allergic reactions, and anaphylaxis are possible. Always get emergency medical care for a severe allergic reaction.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you use ear drops containing carbamide peroxide?

    Carbamide peroxide drops are a water-based treatment commonly used to reduce ear wax buildup.These drops are generally safe and effective when used as directed, but check with your healthcare provider first. Do not use them if you have a ruptured eardrum or ear discharge.

  • Can ear drops treat a fungal ear infection?

    Yes, but it depends on the type. Antibiotic drops are for bacterial infections, not viral or fungal infections. Canesten (clotrimazole) is the most commonly used drug for treating fungal infections with ear drops.

  • What happens if you put too much ear drops in?

    In most cases, the drops will just run out of your ear and it's not cause for concern. With some drugs, like the antibiotic Ciloxan (ciprofloxacin), you should rinse the ear with water if you use too much. Relying too much on ear drops overall can lead to problems too, so speak with your healthcare provider about their use.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Food and Drug Administration. Use only approved prescription eardrops.

  2. National Health Service. Betamethasone for eyes, ears and nose.

  3. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. Which ear drops help in the treatment of outer ear infections? In: InformedHealth.org [Internet].

  4. Miyamoto RT. Traumatic perforation of the tympanic membrane. Merck Manual Professional Version.

  5. Aaron K, Cooper TE, Warner L, Burton MJ. Ear drops for the removal of ear wax. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018 Jul 25;7(7):CD012171. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD012171.pub2. 

  6. Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health. Carbamide peroxide (otic).

  7. NPS MedicineWise. Ciloxan 0.3% Ear Drops.