Ear Drops

Ear drops are liquid medications that you put inside your ear canal. Ear drops can help treat pain, inflammation, infection and earwax blockage. You can purchase some ear drops over the counter. Or, you can get a prescription from your healthcare provider.

Overview

What are ear drops?

Ear drops are liquid medications that you put inside your ear canal. You can buy some kinds of ear drops over the counter. Others require a prescription from a healthcare provider.

You should consult a healthcare provider before using ear drops. Additionally, you should avoid using ear drops at all if you think you could have a ruptured eardrum. Symptoms of a ruptured eardrum include ear pain, hearing loss, ringing in your ears, ear drainage and vertigo.

Why would someone need to use ear drops?

You may need to use ear drops if you have certain ear conditions, such as:

What are the different types of ear drops?

There are several different types of ear drops. The one that’s right for you depends on a few factors, including your symptoms and what type of ear condition you have.

Ear drops for ear infections

If you have an ear infection, your healthcare provider may recommend antifungal or antibiotic ear drops. Active ingredients in these ear drops often include:

Can I get antibiotic ear drops over the counter?

No, antibiotic ear drops aren’t available over the counter. These medications require a prescription from a healthcare provider.

You can purchase some antifungal ear drops over the counter. But you should ask your healthcare provider before using this type of treatment.

Swimmer’s ear drops

Swimmer’s ear is an infection of your outer ear. Bacteria usually cause it, but fungi (more than one fungus) can cause it as well. People with swimmer’s ear may also develop pain, itching and swelling.

A dry ear is unlikely to become infected, so be sure to dry your ears thoroughly after swimming or bathing.

Antifungal or antibiotic ear drops can treat the infection. Topical steroid ear drops can help relieve inflammation and itching.

To treat swimmer’s ear, your healthcare provider may recommend ear drops that contain:

  • Acetic acid.
  • Ciprofloxacin.
  • Cortisporin®.
  • Dexamethasone.
  • Alcohol or vinegar.

You can also buy over-the-counter (OTC) ear drops to help dry out your ears quicker. These ear drops typically contain isopropyl alcohol or glycerin. If your symptoms worsen after using OTC swimmer’s ear drops, let your healthcare provider know.

Ear drops for pain

Over-the-counter pain relievers, like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, are usually the most effective defense against ear pain. But you can also purchase pain relief ear drops over the counter. These ear drops contain homeopathic ingredients. Homeopathic remedies come from the philosophy that “like cures like.” It’s the belief that a substance that causes symptoms in a healthy person can cure the same symptoms in an ill person.

Over-the-counter ear drops for pain may contain these homeopathic ingredients:

  • Belladonna (Atropa belladonna).
  • Wolfsbane (Aconitum napellus).
  • Ferrum phosphoricum.

Consult a healthcare provider before trying homeopathic remedies.

Earwax removal drops

If you have earwax buildup, certain ear drops can soften and loosen your earwax for easier removal. There are three types of softening drops for earwax: water-based, non-water-based and oil-based. If you have impacted earwax, a healthcare provider may recommend ear drops containing:

Once the medication has time to work, you’ll gently rinse your ear canals with warm water. Some products come with an ear syringe to make this step easier. Be sure to follow the instructions on the product packaging.

You should talk to your healthcare provider before using earwax removal drops.

Ear drops for itchy ears

If you have itchy ears without an infection, then corticosteroid ear drops can help ease your symptoms. If you have an infection, you’ll also need antifungal or antibiotic ear drops. Some ear drops contain both anti-infective medications and corticosteroids.

Some of the most common corticosteroid ear drops contain:

  • Dexamethasone.
  • Hydrocortisone.
  • Fluocinolone.

Ear drops for itchy ears are only available with a prescription.

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Procedure Details

How should I use ear drops?

Here are some tips for helping you put ear drops in your ears:

  • Warm the bottle in your hand. (Ear drops that are too cool or too warm can cause dizziness.)
  • Lie down with the affected ear facing up toward the ceiling.
  • Hold the outer part of your ear (just above your ear lobe) and gently pull back. This helps straighten your ear canal.
  • Place the recommended number of drops into your ear canal.
  • Massage your tragus (the little piece of tissue that sits just in front of your ear canal). This encourages the drops down your ear canal.
  • Lie on your side for a few minutes. This allows the ear drops to reach your eardrum.
  • Sit up and allow any excess drops to drain out of your ear.
  • Don’t stick objects in your ear canal, such as a cotton swab or hairpins.

How long will I need to use ear drops?

This depends on the condition and the type of ear drops you use. Ask your healthcare provider how many days you’ll need to use ear drops. Closely follow the instructions on the packaging.

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Risks / Benefits

What are the benefits of using ear drops?

Ear drops can kill bacteria and fungi faster than oral medication. In some cases, ear drops may be the only treatment you need.

What are the side effects of using ear drops?

The most common side effect is a stinging or burning sensation in your ear canal. This usually goes away within a few minutes and isn’t a cause for concern. However, if your symptoms worsen or don’t go away, call your healthcare provider.

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What are the risks of using ear drops?

Serious complications are rare, but you should call your healthcare provider if you develop:

  • New pain.
  • Redness or swelling around your ears.
  • Signs of an allergic reaction, such as rash, dizziness or difficulty breathing.
  • Hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing).

When To Call the Doctor

When should I call my healthcare provider?

You should contact your healthcare provider if you’re using ear drops and develop:

Additional Details

Can I purchase ear drops for tinnitus?

There are no ear drops specifically for treating tinnitus (ringing in your ears). Tinnitus is usually a symptom of another condition, such as an ear infection, earwax blockage, hearing loss or TMJ disorders. Typically, tinnitus may go away when you treat the underlying issue.

Can ear drops hurt your ears?

Ear drops are generally safe when used properly. But you should never use ear drops if you have a ruptured eardrum. If your eardrum has a hole in it, the medication can get into your middle or inner ear and cause complications.

Can a bacterial ear infection go away without antibiotics?

Some bacterial ear infections may go away on their own. But you should see a healthcare provider if your symptoms don’t improve within three days or if symptoms become severe.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Ear drops are a type of medication that you put inside your ear canal. They help treat a range of ear conditions, including swimmer’s ear, middle ear infections and earwax blockage. You can buy some ear drops over the counter. Others require a prescription. Talk to a healthcare provider before using any type of ear drops to make sure this treatment option is safe for you.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/29/2023.

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