How to use ear drops

Ear drops are used if medication needs to work directly in the ear.

How to apply ear drops

It is important to use the correct technique to make sure you get the right amount of medication. Ask your healthcare provider to show you. The following is a guide:

  • Warm the ear drops by holding the container in your hand for a few minutes. Cold ear drops can make you dizzy. Do not warm the ear drops under hot water. This may hurt your ear.  
  • Lie on your side with the affected ear facing up.
  • Gently pull your earlobe to straighten the ear canal.
  • Put the correct number of drops in your ear. Gently massage the front of the ear.
  • Stay on your side for five minutes.
  • If both ears are being treated, turn over and repeat after 5 minutes.

Applying ear drops in babies & children

Applying ear drops in babies and some children can be tricky, because they wriggle. You may need help from another adult. The following steps are a guide:

  • Reassure your child that this may feel a bit uncomfortable but it will not hurt.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water.
  • For babies or small children, you can wrap them up in a blanket to keep them still.
  • Its best if your child is lying down on their side with their head on a pillow, or have your child tilt their head to one side.
  • Place the tip of the dropper gently just inside the ear hole. Gently squeeze the dropper into the ear to give the correct number of drops.
  • Don't let the tip of the dropper touch the ear.
  • Ask your child to lie on their side or keep their head tilted for a minute.
  • If your child needs the drops in both ears, repeat in the other ear.
  • Wipe the dropper with a clear tissue after each use and replace the cap.
  • Wash your hands again.

Read more about how to give ear drops to children - How to give ear drops Medicines for Children, UK


When are ear drops used?

Ear drops are liquid medicine, to be put into the ear. They are used if medication needs to work directly in the ear, such as to:

Soften and remove ear wax

Our ear canals produce ear wax, which lines the ear canal and keeps them clean. Ear wax traps dust and other debris, and gradually works its way to the entrance of your ear canal, where it escapes. If the wax builds up it can cause discomfort, pain and hearing loss.

  • Ear wax can be softened using warm olive oil ear drops or almond oil ear drops.
  • Drops for softening ear wax can be bought from your pharmacy, such as Waxsol® or Cerumol®.

Ear drops aren't suitable for everyone and shouldn't be used if you have a perforated eardrum (a hole or tear in your eardrum). Speak to your pharmacist about the best product for you. Read more earwax build-up and removal.

Treat ear infections, inflammation or eczema

Some ear drops contain antibiotics to treat infection in the outer ear (otitis externa) such as Soframycin®. Antibiotic ear drops can also include a steroid to reduce swelling from ear infections. Examples include Ciproxin HC®, Sofradex®, Locacorten-Vioform®, and Kenacomb®. These ear drops are available only on prescription from your doctor.

For treatment of mild ear infection and discomfort of the outer ear (called otitis externa) — usually caused by water in the ear, ear drops such as Vosol®, can be from your pharmacy. 

More about ear drops

  • Do not try to clean inside your ear with cotton buds, they can damage and irritate the inflamed skin, and make things worse. Just wipe the outside of your ear with a clean cloth or tissue if any discharge appears or medication spill occurs.
  • Ear drops may cause mild stinging, irritation and discomfort, but if you experience severe pain and discomfort, contact your healthcare provider.
  • Ear drops are usually used for a short time only. Check with your healthcare provider how long to use them for.
  • Ask your pharmacist about the expiration date and also check the expiration date on the label. If the drops have expired, throw them away. Don’t use expired ear drops, as they can be contaminated and cause infection.  

Learn more

The following links provide further information on how to apply ear drops. Be aware that websites from other countries may contain information that differs from New Zealand recommendations.

How to use ear drops properly Safe Medication, ASHP (US)
Applying Ear Drops NHS Trust (UK)

The following links provide further information on specific ear drops available in New Zealand.

Consumer Medicine Information

Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 14 May 2017