A Comprehensive Guide on How to Use Ear Drops Correctly: Instructions, When to Use and What to Avoid

Jul 31, 2023

Article by Hearing Partners, contributed by Sadrina Shah, Clinical Audiologist at Hearing Partners

Our ears are delicate and complex organs that play a vital role in our daily lives, allowing us to hear and perceive the world around us. However, just like any part of our body, they can occasionally require some extra care and attention.

Ear drops are liquid medications commonly used to alleviate various ear-related issues, such as excessive earwax, ear infections, or inflammation. They can be purchased over the counter or prescribed by an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist.

In this guide, we’ll share step-by-step instructions on how to use ear drops correctly and what to avoid when using them. We’ll also highlight some potential side effects of these medications and answer your frequently asked questions about ear drops.

When to Use Ear Drops

Ear drops may be prescribed when you have ear pain, infections, or itchy ears. They may also be prescribed to help with ear wax removal.
Note! 

It’s recommended to consult an ENT professional for advice before using any ear drops.

For ear infections

Ear drops may be prescribed to treat outer ear infections such as swimmer’s ear (otitis externa). Swimmer’s ear is often caused by bacteria, though fungi can also be the culprit. Those diagnosed with this infection may experience symptoms such as pain, itching, and swelling.

In the case of an outer ear infection, ENT professionals often recommend the use of ear drops containing antifungal or antibiotic properties. These specialised drops are designed to combat the infection effectively.

Ear drops containing topical steroids may also be recommended to address pain, itching and swelling in the ear.

For ear pain

Pain in the ear can arise from various causes, including ear infections, ear injuries, or ill-fitting hearing aids.

When it comes to alleviating ear pain, over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen are often the go-to medications. However, over-the-counter pain relief ear drops can also be an alternative solution. Before using such ear drops, it’s best to consult an ENT professional to ensure that they’re suitable and safe for use.

For ear wax removal

Excessive earwax can accumulate due to ear digging or the prolonged use of hearing aids and earphones. Fortunately, there are specific ear drops available that aid in the removal of impacted earwax by softening and loosening it.

These drops can be categorised into 3 types: water-based, non-water-based, and oil-based. It’s crucial to carefully follow the instructions provided on the product packaging to ensure proper and safe usage of the drops.

Note! 

After applying the ear drops and allowing sufficient time for them to take effect, it’s important to gently rinse your ear canals with warm water. Some products even provide an ear syringe to facilitate this step, making it more convenient for you.

For itchy ears

When experiencing itchy ears without an infection, the use of corticosteroid ear drops can be beneficial in providing relief from the symptoms. However, if there’s an infection present, additional treatment is necessary. In such cases, antifungal or antibiotic ear drops are typically required to address the underlying infection.

Some ear drops may contain both anti-infective medications and corticosteroids so you can tackle both the infection and the itch at the same time.

Steps for Using Ear Drops Correctly

Using ear drops correctly is essential in ensuring their effectiveness and avoiding any potential complications. Whether you’re administering ear drops for the first time or seeking a refresher on the proper technique, this section will provide you with general steps to follow.

However, it’s crucial to note that specific instructions may vary depending on the product, so you’re recommended to carefully read and adhere to the instructions provided on the product label. It’s also best to consult your ENT doctor before using the drops.

How to use ear drops infographic

Step 1: Wash your hands

Before administering the ear drops, start by washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

Step 2: Warm the bottle

Using ear drops that are either too cold or too hot can lead to feelings of dizziness. If your ear drops were stored in the refrigerator, you can warm the bottle in your hand until it’s almost body temperature.

Step 3: Shake the bottle and remove the cap

To mix the contents of the drops, shake the bottle gently. Next, remove the bottle cap and place it on a clean surface such as a piece of tissue paper.

Step 4: Tilt your head or lie on your side

Tilt your head to the side or lie on your side such that the affected ear is facing upwards.

Step 5: Pull your ear backwards

Place the dropper tip directly above the entrance of your ear, being careful not to touch your ear with the dropper tip. Gently pull your upper ear upward and backwards (this applies to adults and children over the age of 3).

If you’re administering the drops for children under 3 years of age, gently pull their lower ear downward and backwards.

Step 6: Apply the ear drop

If the dropper is separate from the bottle, carefully draw the ear drop into it. If the dropper tip is already attached to the bottle’s nozzle, simply invert the bottle. Next, apply the recommended number of drops into the ear as instructed by your doctor.

Once the drops are applied, softly massage the small skin flap over the ear, known as the tragus, so that the drops flow into the ear canal properly. To ensure the medication remains in the ear and to prevent any leakage, keep your ear tilted or continue lying on your side for approximately 5 minutes.

Step 7: Cap and store the bottle away

After using the ear drops, be sure to promptly replace the cap on the bottle and wash your hands again.

Proper storage of ear drops is crucial, and here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Store them in a cool, dry location, away from direct sunlight.
  • Ensure the ear drops are kept out of reach of children.
  • Certain ear drops may require refrigeration, while others should be stored at room temperature. It’s important to consult your doctor to determine the specific storage requirements for the ear drops you are using.

What to Avoid When Using Ear Drops

Aside from learning the correct steps for using ear drops, it’s also important to be aware of what to avoid to minimise the risk of potential complications. Read on as we share the key considerations to keep in mind to ensure the safe and effective use of this medication.

Avoid using expired ear drops

Before using the ear drops, make sure to check the expiry date on the bottle. If it’s expired, discard the bottle and get a new one. Also, if the bottle has been opened for more than 30 days, it’s best to replace it with a new one.

Avoid touching other surfaces with the dropper

To prevent the risk of contamination and potential ear infections, ensure that the dropper tip of the ear drops doesn’t come into contact with your ear, fingers, or any other surfaces. Such contact can introduce bacteria or other germs onto the dropper, which may then be transferred to your ear, potentially causing an infection.

Avoid using a damaged dropper

If you notice that your dropper is cracked, chipped or dirty, it’s best to replace it with a new bottle of ear drops. Cracked or chipped droppers can cause ear injuries, while dirty ones can result in ear infections.

Avoid sharing ear drops

Refrain from sharing your ear drops with others, as this can facilitate the spread of germs, bacteria and potential infections.

Possible Side Effects of Using Ear Drops

The most frequent side effect experienced when using ear drops is a temporary stinging or burning sensation in the ear canal. Typically, this discomfort subsides within a few minutes and isn’t a cause for concern. However, if the symptoms persist or intensify, contact your ENT doctor immediately.

Additionally, while serious complications are uncommon, it’s important to reach out to your doctor if you encounter any of the following after using ear drops:

  • Fever
  • Onset of new or worsening pain
  • Redness or swelling around the ears
  • Allergic reactions such as rash, dizziness, or difficulty breathing
  • Hearing loss
  • Tinnitus (a ringing sensation in the ears)

FAQs About Using Ear Drops

Is there ear drops for tinnitus?

There are no dedicated ear drops designed specifically for the treatment of tinnitus. Tinnitus is a symptom of an underlying condition such as hearing loss, earwax blockage, ear infections, or temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders. Tinnitus management involves identifying and addressing the root cause of the condition.

If you’re seeking help for tinnitus, get in touch with us today.

Are there any risks of using ear drops?

When used correctly, ear drops are generally safe. However, there are rare occasions where complications may arise. For example, if you have a ruptured eardrum, it’s vital to avoid using ear drops. The drops can reach your middle or inner ear through the hole or perforation in the ear drum, causing complications.

Do I need to lie down after using ear drops?

Yes, you should continue lying on your side for approximately 5 minutes after applying the ear drop to allow it to flow into your ear canal properly.

What happens if I put too many eardrops in my ear?

The ear drops will usually trickle out of your ear, so it won’t be a cause for concern. It’s worth noting that certain medications, such as Ciloxan (ciprofloxacin), may require you to rinse your ear with water if an excessive amount of drops is used.

Suspect you might have hearing loss?

Your ears play an important role in your daily life and should not be neglected.

Speak to our hearing care professionals regarding your concerns today.