Drugs Acting on the Ear

Drugs that are used to treat disorders of the outer, middle, or inner ear

Common drugs

    Antibiotics and antifungals

  • Chloramphenicol

  • Clioquinol

  • Clotrimazole

  • Gentamicin

  • Neomycin

    Anti-inflammatory drugs

  • Aluminium acetate

  • Betamethasone

  • Dexamethasone

  • Hydrocortisone

  • Prednisolone

  • Triamcinolone

    Earwax softeners

  • Docusate

  • Olive oil

  • Sodium bicarbonate

  • Urea–hydrogen peroxide

    Other drugs

  • Betahistine

  • Hyoscine

  • Prochlorperazine

Drugs can be used to treat conditions affecting the outer, middle, or inner ear. They may also be used to relieve the symptoms that accompany these conditions, such as pain, inflammation, and nausea. The drugs can be applied topically in the form of drops (see Using eardrops) or sprays or they can be taken orally.

What are the types?

Several types of drug are used to treat ear disorders, including antibiotics, antifungals, anti-inflammatory drugs, and earwax softeners. Antibiotics are prescribed for bacterial infections, sometimes in combination with anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aluminium acetate, or mild corticosteroid drugs (see Topical corticosteroids). Earwax softeners loosen excess earwax so that it can be removed easily. Various other drugs are used to treat symptoms that accompany disorders of the balance mechanism in the inner ear.

Antibiotics and antifungals

If you have a bacterial or fungal infection of your outer ear, such as otitis externa, your doctor will probably prescribe antibiotic or antifungal eardrops, which act directly on the infected area of the ear. Infections of the middle ear, such as otitis media, may be treated with oral antibiotics.

Anti-inflammatory drugs

The anti-inflammatory drugs most commonly prescribed are corticosteroid eardrops. Eardrops containing aluminium acetate are sometimes used to treat mild inflammation of the outer ear. You may notice a slight stinging sensation as the eardrops are applied.

Earwax softeners

If excess wax builds up in your ear canal (see Wax blockage), your doctor will probably recommend olive oil drops or sodium bicarbonate drops, available over the counter, to soften the wax. Over-the-counter products containing docusate or urea–hydrogen peroxide are also available but can cause mild irritation of the skin inside the ear. The earwax may come out with these treatments alone but if it does not, your doctor or a nurse may syringe your ears to remove it.

Other drugs

Nausea, vomiting, and vertigo are common symptoms of inner-ear disorders such as Ménière’s disease and labyrinthitis. Mild symptoms may be relieved by treatment with antihistamines. However, if these drugs are ineffective, you may be prescribed the antiemetic drug prochlorperazine. Betahistine is used specifically to treat the nausea, dizziness, and ringing in the ears (see Tinnitus) that occur in Ménière’s disease. Antiemetic drugs are usually taken orally, but if you are vomiting repeatedly, the drugs may be administered as an injection or by suppository or skin patch.

Self-administration: Using Eardrops

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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