What are Antibiotic Ear Drops?

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  • Written By: Maggie Worth
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2019
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Antibiotic ear drops are liquid antibiotics that are administered by depositing the medicine directly into the outer ear canal. They are usually prescription-strength antibiotics and must be ordered by a qualified medical professional. Such drops are commonly prescribed for outer ear infections and conditions such as swimmer's ear.

Topical antibiotics such as antibiotic ear drops are applied directly to the area of infection, such as the skin or, in this case, the ear canal. This provides a greater concentration of medicine at the affected site. The medicine can work more quickly and efficiently than systemic antibiotics, such as oral or injectable medications, which must be absorbed into and processed by the body before reaching the infection site.

Another advantage of topical medications is that they usually have fewer and less serious side effects than systemic medications. For example, oral antibiotics can cause vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, headaches and even seizures. Ear drops, on the other hand, rarely cause side effects more severe than minor skin irritation.


Symptoms of outer-ear infections can include redness, itching and burning in the outer ear canal, ear pain and sometimes mild discharge. These infections are often caused by water in the ear which, in turn, allows bacteria to grow. This makes participants of water sports particularly prone to such infections, giving rise to the term "swimmer's ear." Outer ear infections can, however, develop in other circumstances. Once contracted, outer ear infections may not resolve without the use of antibiotic ear drops.

Antibiotic ear drops can be used as preventative medicine as well as a treatment, but are not intended for long-term use. For example, a person who gets an outer ear infection every time she flies may use drops for a day or two before boarding the plane. A teenager on the swim team, however, would be more likely to use a non-antibiotic drop to prevent infection.

Many commonly-prescribed antibiotic ear drops also contain a steroid. Addition of steroids may decrease inflammation. Some also believe that the steroid component will help symptoms resolve faster.

Antibiotic ear drops are usually dispensed in a small glass jar with a dropper built into the lid. The user will squeeze the rubber bulb that protrudes from the bottle to draw medicine into the nozzle. The tip of the nozzle is placed in the ear canal. Squeezing the bulb again will dispense medicine into he ear. Most antibiotic ear drop prescriptions call for the application of two to four drops, twice per day.


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Post 2

@rugbygirl - An "ear infection" is an infection of the middle ear rather than the outer ear. You wouldn't be able to reach it with drops; if you do need antibiotics for a middle ear infection, you have to take them orally.

My son has had both kinds (lucky kid). His pediatrician said that we really did need to treat the outer ear one, but that the "regular" one would probably clear up on its own. Outer ear infections evidently always require treatment, or at least the kind he had did. I was glad that after the season, he got tired of swim team anyway!

Poor kid came down with an ear infection right before the holidays, so the

doc went ahead and prescribed antibiotics. She said if it got worse on Christmas Eve, we should have them handy! Fortunately, they were not expensive (actually, they were one of the ones that some grocery stores have for free) and we didn't wind up needing them. We gave him Tylenol for the earache and he got better fairly quickly.
Post 1

Is an outer ear infection different from what you hear called "an ear infection"? I have not heard of treating ear infections with antibiotic drops.

I've heard that for ear infections, treatment is not always needed. Is that the case for outer ear infections as well? I used to be really prone to ear infections as a kid and they finally put those tubes in, but now I hear those might not be very effective.

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