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How to Use Ear Drops Correctly

Using Ear Drops


Updated May 16, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Many ear disorders may be treated with ear drops, including middle ear infections, swimmer's ear, excessive ear wax, pain, swelling and more. No matter what they are for, they will not work (or at least not well) if they are not given correctly.

Giving ear drops is at least a two-person job. It is almost impossible to give ear drops to yourself and put them in at the correct angle. It's also difficult if you are using ear drops on a reluctant child.

Before we talk about the procedure, there are a few things you should know. Extreme caution should be used when using ear drops on someone who has recently had ear surgery (especially synthetic ear tubes placement or a tympanoplasty) or who has a ruptured ear drum. A ruptured ear drum happens when pressure or a sharp object inserted in the ear makes a hole in the ear drum (the tympanic membrane). Symptoms of a ruptured ear drum include pain, ear drainage, or hearing a popping noise followed by a cessation of pain and pressure and possibly accompanied by drainage from the ear. There may also be a noticeable difference in your ability to hear after the ear drum ruptures.

If the ear drum is impaired in any way, ear drops can make their way directly into the inner ear and damage the delicate structures there, even causing hearing loss in some cases. There are special antibiotics that can be used if your ear drum is not intact, but they must be prescribed by a doctor. If you suspect you have a ruptured ear drum, you should never use home remedies to treat or prevent swimmer's ear (such as vinegar, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or oil). Over-the-counter drops used to dissolve ear wax should also be avoided. If you have been prescribed ear drops and your ear drum ruptures later on, call your doctor right away.

What You'll Need

  1. 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.
  2. A towel to place under the head because some of the ear drops may come back out of the ear.
  3. Someone to assist you.

Before Starting

  1. 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. Follow your doctor's instructions above all.
  2. Inspect the drops and check the expiration date. If they appear contaminated or are expired, don't use them.

Position and Give Drops

For Adults and Teenagers:

  • Fold the towel in half and lay it out on the floor. Have the person receiving the drops lay down on on their side, with their head on the towel, affected ear up. The person giving the drops should kneel or sit beside them.

  • 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.

  • Gently push on the ear flap, or if your doctor has instructed you to do so, put a cotton ball in the ear to plug it.

  • 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.

  • 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:

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • The person who is administering the drops should kneel beside the child.

  • Pull the ear lobe out and down to straighten the Eustachian (auditory) tube.

  • Give the correct number of drops one at a time.

  • Gently push on the flap of the ear or place a cotton ball inside of the ear to plug it.

  • The child should remain in this position for a few minutes so that the medication can coat as much of the ear as possible.

  • Repeat on the other ear if necessary.

For Infants and Toddlers:

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • The person giving the drops should softly pull the ear lobe out and down to straighten the auditory tube.

  • Carefully give the correct number of drops prescribed, counting each drop one by one.

  • Close ear flap or place a cotton ball in the ear canal.

  • 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 Giving Ear Drops

  • Beware the signs of an allergic reaction (burning, itching, redness, swelling, difficulty breathing), and call a health care 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.


Medline Plus. Ciprofloxacin and Dexamethasone Otic. Accessed: August 20, 2011 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/meds/a607010.html

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