There are many ear disorders that can be treated with ear drops including middle ear infections, swimmer's ear, excessive ear wax, and ear pain.
While it's possible to self-administer ear drops, the angle of the auditory tube can sometimes be a little tricky. In instances like these, it often helps to have a second set of hands (or a third if you plan to give them to a child).
Types of Ear Drop
Some of the more common types of ear drops include:
Acid-based detergents to break up ear wax
Alcohol and acetic acid solutions to prevent swimmer's ears
Antibiotics to treat bacterial infections
Anesthetics to help numb ear pain
Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, ear drops should never be used if you have a ruptured eardrum. Doing so allows potentially damaging chemicals into the middle ear. This even includes antibiotic ear drops meant to clear an infection.
You can often tell the eardrum is ruptured if there is a sharp pain, drainage, or a popping noise followed by the immediate relief of pain and pressure.
See your doctor if you believe your eardrum is ruptured, and avoid placing anything in your ear until then. In most cases, the eardrum will repair itself within a matter of days.
When preparing to use ear drops, always make a point of reading the product instructions carefully, including the list of possible side effects. If the instructions are unclear, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
You should also check the expiration date. If the drops are expired or appear contaminated, throw them away.
Ear drops are best used at room temperature. Drops that are too cold or hot can make you feel dizzy and disoriented. If you carry them in your pant pocket for 30 minutes, you can usually get them to the right temperature.
Finally, always wash your hands with soap and water before using or administering ear drops.
Usage in Adults and Teens
These instructions apply if you are alone or have a friend who can help:
Fold the towel in half and lay it on a kitchen or bathroom counter.
Lay your head on the towel with your affected ear up.
You or your friend should then gently pull the earlobe out and up to straighten the auditory tube.
Carefully administer the recommended number of drops into the ear canal.
Gently push on the ear flap to encourage the liquid into the ear.
Stay there for at least a minute or two to ensure the medication is coating the ear canal fully.
Repeat on the other side if needed.
Usage in Children
This one requires one or even two additional people, especially if the child is young or squeamish. In this instance, one person would administer the drops while the other would keep the child still.
The procedure is also slightly different because the auditory tube in children is shorter and has a more horizontal angle.
To administer the drops safely:
Fold a clean towel in half and place it on the floor or bed.
Have the child lay his or her head on the towel, affected ear up.
If needed, a second adult can hold the child's head still. If the child is especially fidgety, the adult should lie down and cradle the child while keeping the head restrained.
The person administering the drops should gently pull the earlobe out and down (rather than out and up) to straighten the auditory tube.
Administer the prescribed number of drops.
Gently push on the flap of the ear or plug the ear with a cotton ball.
Keep the child in this position for several minutes.
Repeat on the other ear if needed.
The process for infants and toddlers is more or less the same. Infants can be swaddled in a blanket (with arms in) to keep them comfortable and still. Toddlers may need to be cradled on the bed with their arms and legs fully restrained.
A Word From Verywell
The ear is a delicate structure and can respond differently to different medications. If you have any abnormal reactions after using the drops, call your doctor. This is especially true if you have an allergic reactioncharacterized by burning, itching, redness, or localized rash.
While rare, ear drops can sometimes trigger a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. If left untreated, anaphylaxis may lead to coma, shock, cardiac or respiratory failure, and even death.
Call 911 or seek emergency care if you develop a rash, hives, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, facial swelling, lightheadedness, or a rapid heartbeat after using an ear drop.