For most outer ear infections, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic or antifungal eardrop with or without a steroid eardrop to reduce the swelling and inflammation.
Your doctor will first clear the debris out of the ear canal. In severe cases, if the canal is partly closed by inflammation, a wick can be inserted to draw the eardrops in. The wick expands and holds the medication close to the infected area in the ear. For severe infections, antibiotics taken by mouth will be prescribed. Treatment of malignant otitis externa requires several weeks of antibiotics given into a vein.
To help ease the pain associated with an outer ear infection, pain relievers such as acetaminophen*, ibuprofen, or naproxen can be used. Talk to your pharmacist or doctor about which pain medication is best for you.
While you are being treated for an outer ear infection, don’t swim or fly and keep water out of your ear.
To help prevent outer ear infections, it's always a good idea to dry the ears thoroughly after showering or swimming. You can use a hair dryer set on the lowest setting. Never direct a shower jet directly into the ear canal. Also, don’t use cotton swabs to clean or dry the ear canal. To prevent outer ear infections due to swimming, wear a swimming cap or use over-the-counter eardrops with acetic acid or alcohol after swimming. Avoid earplugs, as they actually can increase the risk of outer ear infections. If you or your child get recurrent infections, or if these preventative measures do not work, contact your doctor.
Precautions for using eardrops
In general, eardrops for outer ear infections should not be used if you have a broken eardrum. They also should not be taken for a longer period than recommended by a doctor. Treatment usually lasts between 7 and 10 days. Even though most symptoms are relieved after 3 days of treatment, the drops should be continued for the full course to make sure that the infection has been thoroughly treated.
Eardrops for outer ear infections may cause burning or irritation of the ear canal. Some medications, particularly neomycin and corticosteroids, can also trigger allergic reactions. Some eardrops, such as gentamicin or neomycin, may cause ototoxicity (damage to the nerve that controls our hearing, which can lead to hearing loss). Using these medications when you have a broken eardrum, or for periods longer than one week, can increase this risk. Otherwise, the risk is very low.
Applying the medication properly will make sure that it takes effect quickly to relieve pain and to remove the infection.
Written and reviewed by the MediResource Clinical Team