Do Ear Drops Works If They Leak Out Of Your Ear?

In our latest question and answer, the pharmacist discusses problems with ear drops leaking out of the ear and what to do to prevent it from happening.


So I was prescribed ear drops (corticosteroid) since I have a small hole in my ear drum. They want me to take it twice a day but when I do, it they don’t go down at all. I’ve been just putting it in for around ten minutes and then letting it leak it still working when I do that?

Asked by Sas On Jul 23, 2018

Answered by
Medical Content Reviewed By PharmacistAnswers Staff

On Jul 23, 2018

The problem you are having is a common one... ear drops either pooling in the outside of your ear or simply leaking out after administration.

It is possible that the drops are not getting to the affected area for proper treatment due to inflammation of the external ear (i.e. otitis externa) or inflammation of the ear canal. If they are not reaching the affected area of the ear, they most likely are not working.

We wrote an article around a similar subject that may help for you to reference: Problems With Ear Drops Pooling In Ear.

Problems With Ear Drops That Won't Stay In

If you have a middle ear infection, antibiotic/anti-inflammatory drops need to reach that site to exert their effects. If they don't, there is a good chance your infection/inflammation won't clear.

First, prior to administration, it is extremely important to clean the external auditory canal (visible part of the ear and canal) and dry with a sterile cotton applicator (e.g. a cotton ball).

If after cleaning this area, the drops are still not going in your ear, you should speak to your doctor about this problem. In many cases, they will recommend, and apply, a "wick" in your ear. This is especially common in those with more severe inflammation and is recommended by many guidelines for the treatment of ear infections:

"When the canal is quite swollen, a cotton wick specifically designed for this purpose should be placed to facilitate drainage and permit application of topical medications".

Ear wicks are typically saturated with medicated ear drops and kept moist by adding additional solution every few hours. The wick will help get the medicine into (and stay in) the ear better.  Wick are most often used during the first few days of therapy, until the inflammation is resolved to the point where ear drops will stay in your ear. 

Depending on the severity of your inflammation, your doctor may insert a wick for you (in ear canal) or they may simply instruct you to saturate a cotton ball and leave that inserted into your outer ear (not the ear canal). From there, once the more severe inflammation has cleared, it is important to use proper technique when applying ear drops:

  • Lie with the affected ear upward, and then instill the drops.
  • Lie in this position for a few minutes to facilitate penetration of the drops into the ear canal.
  • Repeat, if necessary, for the opposite ear.

Since you mentioned in your question that your ear drops are not going in your ear (or don't appear to be), it is important to speak with your doctor. Medicated ear drops exert a local effect, meaning they must come into contact with the affected area. They may recommend to you the use of a cotton ball saturated with your ear drops or they may need to insert a wick for a day or two to reduce inflammation.

About the Pharmacist

Dr. Brian Staiger Pharm.D

Dr. Brian Staiger is a licensed pharmacist in New York State and the founder of He graduated from the University At Buffalo with a Doctor of Pharmacy degree in 2010. He has been featured in numerous publications including the Huffington Post as well as a variety of health and pharmacy-related blogs. Please feel free to reach out to him directly if you have any inquiries or want to connect! He's answered thousands of medication and pharmacy-related questions and he's ready to answer yours! Office: 716-389-3076

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