Over-the-counter or non-prescription ear drops are used by many to relieve irritation caused by excessive or impacted ear wax. Drops are also used to dry water from the ear canal, a condition often referred to as “Swimmer’s Ear.”. Although there are multiple brands available for both conditions, most ear drops share a few ingredients.
The FDA has approved carbamide peroxide for over the counter use in ear drops. Derived from urea and hydrogen peroxide, carbamide peroxide is safe to use on individuals 12 years of age or older. This ingredient can soften, loosen and remove ear wax that has become impacted or is excessive. Generally it is safe to use two times a day for four consecutive days. Bubbling is commonly heard when carbamide peroxide is introduced to the ear. Any remaining carbamide peroxide should be gently irrigated out of the ear.
Glycerin is often a non-active ingredient in ear drops to relieve impacted wax. The active ingredient, carbamide peroxide, is usually held in a glycerin solution. Glycerin adds moisture and lubrication, making it easier for the drops and loosened wax to exit the ear. Glycerin also attracts water which is helpful if there is water in the ear canal.
Sweet oil, another name for olive oil, is used in place of glycerin in some ear drops. As with glycerin, sweet oil is mixed with carbamide peroxide to soften, loosen and remove ear wax. The moisturizing properties of sweet oil help the ear drops and ear wax to drain from the ear canal.
Isopropyl alcohol is mixed with glycerin in a 95 to 5 ratio in ear drops that remove water. This mixture has been approved by the FDA to aid in drying out ears. Isopropyl alcohol dries out and disinfects the ear. Drops are generally placed in ear canal immediately after exposure to the water to remain for two minutes, then drained.
Some ear drying drops will add white vinegar to isopropyl alcohol and glycerin mixture in a one to one ratio. White vinegar has the same drying and disinfecting properties of isopropyl alcohol. Additionally, the ear canal doesn’t become resistant to white vinegar’s disinfection. White vinegar can lower the pH balance of the ear so should not be used in concentrations higher than 2.5 percent.
Homeopathic and organic ear drops usually feature calendula as the active ingredient. The petals of the calendula, an annual plant in the same family as the daisy and ragweed, are used. Dried and ground, the petals are added to a liquid such as glycerin or sweet oil. Use by children is recommended; however there are few studies to demonstrate that this is safe. Five to ten drops are placed in the ear for two minutes, and then drained.