Which ear drops help in the treatment of outer ear infections?
Outer ear infections are among the most common causes of earaches. They are usually caused by bacteria. If the infection only lasts a few days or weeks, it is called acute otitis externa. Painkillers and disinfectant ear drops are some of the more common treatments that are available in pharmacies without a prescription. But prescription-only ear drops – for instance, containing antibiotics or steroids – are often used too.
Research on treatments for outer ear infections
Researchers from the Cochrane Collaboration (an international network of researchers) analyzed the results of 19 randomized controlled trials that tested different treatments for outer ear infections. Almost 3,400 children and adults with an acute outer ear infection took part in these good-quality studies. The researchers didn’t include studies on chronic outer ear infections.
Most of the studies were carried out in specialized ear, nose and throat (ENT) departments, so it’s not clear whether the treatment outcomes would be the same for people who go to their family doctor. Also, the different studies looked at many different types of treatment. Because of this, it wasn’t possible to draw any reliable conclusions about the advantages and disadvantages of the various ear drops and sprays.
Evidence of an anti-inflammatory effect
Still, it was found that prescription-only ear drops (containing antibiotics or steroids) seemed to effectively relieve the symptoms of outer ear infections. Some studies also looked at combinations of different types of drugs, but none of the treatments were found to be better or worse than others.
Doctors can help people decide which prescription ear drops are most suitable.
All ear drops can also have side effects such as burning sensations or rashes. But side effects are unlikely if you use the ear drops properly. If you aren’t sure how to use them, you can consult the package insert or ask your doctor.
Hajioff D, MacKeith S. Otitis externa. BMJ Clin Evid 2015.
Kaushik V, Malik T, Saeed SR. Interventions for acute otitis externa. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2010; (1): CD004740.
IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping
people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health
Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. informedhealth.org can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.
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