How To Use Hydrogen Peroxide In Ears
Hydrogen peroxide has been used for decades to treat small wounds, disinfect surfaces, bleach hair, and is present in a wide range of products. The most common over-the-counter bottle of hydrogen peroxide is the 3% solution in the familiar brown bottle. Unless otherwise noted, the 3% solution is the one referenced in the sections below. When using hydrogen peroxide to treat problems in the ear, it is always important to use it properly and with caution, especially around the eyes.
Using hydrogen peroxide to clean your ears or to treat infections in ears has been very common since it was created in 1818 and has long been heavily recommended by health care professionals, up until recently. Current studies have shown that it may not be as harmless to the surrounding skin as previously thought, and a tendency towards excessive use of it when unneeded may be causing further issues. In addition to the regular brown bottle of hydrogen peroxide, many over the counter ear treatments for humans and animals contain peroxide as an active ingredient. However, recent discoveries about its effect on healthy skin cells emphasize the need for caution and proper usage.
When in doubt about whether home treatments are appropriate, always be sure to consult with a physician.
Applying hydrogen peroxide to your ears is a classic home remedy. If you frequently experience wax buildup, a few drops in your ear along with a few drops of olive or almond oil will help the wax to soften, break down and drain out of your ear. A buildup of wax can lead to other issues with your ears, such as tinnitus, hearing loss, or ear damage, so it is important to take care of buildups. Ear wax, however, serves a purpose and keeps the ear canal free of dirt and foreign matter. Ear wax also possesses antimicrobial properties that can naturally protect your ears from infections. It is important to leave an appropriate amount of wax in place and avoid excessive cleaning.
Hydrogen peroxide is not always the recommended approach, and whether or not to use it depends largely on other conditions that may be affecting the ear. For example, am individual who also has the skin condition eczema could have skin cells become dislodged and enter the ear. In that case, they might find that using hydrogen peroxide could worsen the condition by drying out the skin, dislodging more cells, and inflaming the area.
Many people attempt to use cotton swabs or other items that can be inserted into the ear canal to either clean out excess ear wax or dry their ears after showers or swimming. Putting anything in your ear can is not recommended as it can push wax further into the ear canal and possibly damage your inner ear.
If you are certain you have a wax buildup, then using hydrogen peroxide to aid in cleaning your ears out is an easy home remedy option. Always be sure to use the correct 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide, and it should be used with proper care and, when possible, under the direction of a physician.
What the Hydrogen Peroxide Does in Your Ear?
Putting drops of hydrogen peroxide in your ear along with a few drops of olive or almond oil will cause you to feel a foaming or bubbling sensation, which is a good indication that it is working. It may also cause you to have an itching or tickling feeling in your ear canal. Both the oxidation that occurs and a small amount of heat that is generated is what causes the wax to soften enough to drain.
It is very important that you do not insert anything into your ear canal to remove the hydrogen peroxide or oil, as inserting foreign objects may cause further damage to your ears. Many people are tempted to use cotton swabs, some even use metal objects to scrape with, but all objects inserted in the ear can very easily permanently damage to your ears by rupturing the eardrum, damaging the Eustachian tube, or the small bones deep within your ear.
You should not feel any pain or discomfort, but if you do, treat that as a sign that a more serious problem is present like an injury or infection. Serious issues with your ears should be treated by a physician in order to prevent them from developing into possible long-term or permanent damage. Your sense of balance can also be heavily affected by infections or injuries in your ears along with nausea and a fever so be sure to take care when applying a remedy.
Many over-the-counter eardrops are made with hydrogen peroxide and can be used, or just hydrogen peroxide by itself can loosen and soften wax buildups. Over the counter, drops should be available at most pharmacies or stores that sell first aid items. Carefully follow all directions provided with your eardrops to make sure you are using them in the most effective manner possible.
To administer them yourself, perform the following steps.
- Place a towel under your head and lie on your side with the affected ear towards the ceiling. Keep extra towels nearby to clean any runoff.
- Apply a few drops of hydrogen peroxide, preferably with an ear dropper, into your ear canal. You can also put a few drops of olive or almond oil in as well, but if you do so, put them in first before the hydrogen peroxide.
- Place a towel over your ear to catch any excess and let it sit for three to five minutes. Remember, if you feel any pain or discomfort, tilt your head to remove the hydrogen peroxide as quickly as possible.
- Once a few minutes have passed, either sit up or turn on to your other side and allow the mixture to run out of your ear.
- Repeat with the other ear if necessary.
If you are unsure if the blockage in your ear is wax or a more serious injury, it is always a good idea to seek out a medical diagnosis. Overuse of peroxide can cause a variety of problems in your ears, and relying on it too frequently can make it more difficult to identify the underlying causes of your ear pain correctly. Also, if the hydrogen peroxide works correctly with only the normal bubbling sensation and no pain or discomfort, but the blocked feeling persists, that may also be a sign that something else may be the cause of your hearing issues.
Tinnitus is the common name for a constant ringing or buzzing noise in the ear. It has no known cure, and an estimated 32% of people in America experience tinnitus on a regular basis. This constant noise, particularly noticeable at night when there are fewer ambient noises around to compete with it, can cause difficulty sleeping, concentrating, and may also have associated hearing loss. Generally, tinnitus is related to another condition, and treating that condition can help alleviate the ringing and buzzing as a symptom. If the ringing in your ears persists, it may seriously affect the quality of your life, and you may need to consult a hearing specialist if possible.
One cause of tinnitus is earwax that has been pushed down near your eardrums. A buildup of excess ear wax can cause this, but what also may create this problem is by improperly cleaning your ears using cotton swabs or by inserting hard foreign objects into the ear canal that causes the earwax to become compacted and get pushed in farther in rather than taking it out.
Using a few drops of hydrogen peroxide to clear out the excess wax is a cheap and effective method of clearing out blockages made of compacted wax. If the symptom of tinnitus continues, and you are certain you have a blockage, you will need to consult a physician as they can determine what is causing the blockage and have other options to remove it.
Swimmers’ ear is a type of ear infection that affects the external part of the ear. Other ear infections affect the middle and internal parts of the ear and occur mainly from bacteria or viruses entering into the Eustachian tube and becoming trapped there or causing the tube to swell. This usually leads to fluid (pus), filling the tube and causing pain and inflammation.
Middle ear infections are the most common and can frequently occur after someone has had a cold. The swollen Eustachian tubes, which normally allow mucus to drain into the throat, may not be able to drain if a recent cold or flu has caused swelling or inflammation. That lack of drainage traps the mucus within the tubes allowing the infection to set in. Impacted earwax is also a frequent cause of middle ear infections, which can be treated with hydrogen peroxide.
Hydrogen peroxide is antimicrobial and is very effective in sanitizing, disinfecting, and ridding surfaces and minor wounds of bacteria. It should be used carefully when applied to the skin because while it kills bacteria and infected cells, it can also affect healthy skin cells.
Some of the symptoms of an acute middle ear infection are:
- Pain from fluid pushing on the eardrum
- Lying down or chewing can cause painful pressure changes
- The eardrum can be ruptured by excessive pressure from a fluid buildup
- Vomiting and nausea
Children are the most likely to get middle ear infections. Their Eustachian tubes are smaller and more flexible, allowing bacteria to enter the canal more easily. Once the infection has set in, the area behind the eardrum becomes filled with pus and pushes on the eardrum. This pain, combined with children’s limited ability to communicate where they feel pain or the severity of it, can often lead to screaming, crying, or lack of sleep leading to irritability. Please pay close attention to whether they are holding their ears or avoiding lying on their sides when they sleep.
If the pus fills too much, it may rupture the eardrum leaving them feeling dizzy, nauseous, and have a ringing sound in their ears (see Tinnitus). It is important when deciding how to treat children’s ear infections to consult a physician when possible.
Treating a Middle Ear Infection with Hydrogen Peroxide
As far as hydrogen peroxide is concerned, it is basically used to treat infections of the external ear, as well as to remove foreign bodies trapped in the ear. The effervescence reaction caused by this chemical can help bring out the trapped foreign particles so that they can be removed easily to prevent any kind of infection. Again, it is one of the effective home remedies for softening and removing earwax.
- Lay on your side with the affected ear facing up with a clean towel under your head and another nearby to catch any liquid that may leak and to use in Step 4.
- Put 2-3 drops of hydrogen peroxide in your ear.
- You should feel a fizzing sensation. Wait until the fizzing stops, which might take about 10-15 minutes.
- Place the clean towel under your ear and slowly sit up and tilt your head to let the solution flow out.
- Pour warm water in the ear to help extract the wax and dirt that was broken down after a day or two of letting it dissolve.
- It is important to keep the ear as dry as possible, in order to help any residue evaporate, soak a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol and drip a little into your ear. Let it run out as well, and the rest should evaporate.
Important: Do not let the hydrogen peroxide run out or spill across your face into your eyes or mouth. If it gets into your eyes, immediately rinse it out with plain water. Hydrogen peroxide in your mouth will not hurt you as long as you don’t swallow it. In fact, many people use it for teeth whitening and mouthwash. The danger comes from internal ingestion.
Swimmer’s ear can lead to serious complications and, if possible, should be treated by a physician. Other conditions have similar symptoms to swimmer’s ear and will therefore not respond to the same home treatments, and the delay in getting professional care can exacerbate the condition. If symptoms do not improve within 2 to 3 days, then seek help from a doctor.
When water containing bacteria, fungi, or the rare virus enters the ear, an infection can set in. Treatment for swimmer’s ear targets the infection, and if you are able to see a physician, you will most likely be prescribed antibiotic ear drops. Home remedies for swimmer’s ear should intend to either kill the infection or slow the growth. Hydrogen peroxide can be useful for this as it is effective against bacteria, fungi, and many viruses.
The symptoms of swimmer’s ear are:
- An itchy, red, or swollen ear canal
- Ear pain from touching your ear
- Fluid draining from your ear.
Important: If you have drainage, a home remedy may not be appropriate as it could be a sign of a ruptured eardrum. Also, avoid home remedies if you have surgically placed ventilation tubes in your ears, recently had ear surgery, or you are not sure if it actually is swimmer’s ear. If you have symptoms such as high fever, swelling, and redness down the neck or the base of the skull, then the infection may have spread and will require medical intervention.
Treating Swimmer’s Ear (External) Infection with Hydrogen Peroxide
Similar to treating a middle ear infection, drops of hydrogen peroxide (sometimes mixed equal parts with vinegar) can be put in the ear to treat the underlying bacterial or viral cause of the condition. If you have a tendency to get water trapped in your ear leading to swimmer’s ear, then you may want to remove excess wax beforehand by applying hydrogen peroxide to soften the wax for removal.
Ear wax or swollen tissue in the ear can keep the liquid from entering, and if you find that to be the case, then the infection is severe enough to require a doctor’s care. Doctors can use an otoscope to look in your ears to determine if your ear has been blocked. A doctor can remove a wax blockage more easily than most home remedies, and if it is blocked by swollen tissues, something called a wick can be inserted by your doctor to administer the drops safely. A wick should never be attempted at home.
Ear piercings that become infected are a little different from minor skin abrasions that hydrogen peroxide has traditionally been used to treat. Partly due to the fact that the metal from the piercing should remain in place, the skin needs to heal while leaving the hole intact, and hydrogen peroxide can dry out the skin and negatively affect healthy skin cells, actually causing a delay in the healing process of the piercing hole. It may effectively kill bacteria that are present, but the detrimental effect on the pierced area means it is not a preferred method for treatment.
Professional piercings have limited exposure to infection causes. The technician should apply an antiseptic and anti-bacterial gel before and after the piercing, uses clean needles, and performs proper handwashing and sterile gloves.
Infections still occur, a non-professional may use an infected needle, the metal may be contaminated, part of the ring or earring may become embedded in the skin, or you may have an allergic reaction.
The symptoms of an infected piercing include swelling, redness, pus, fever, inflammation, and nausea. It usually takes 3 to 5 days for an infection to appear. It is normal, though, for there to be some pain, for the area to appear pink, and some mild swelling.
To clean an infected piercing, do not remove the metal. This can cause the infection to spread and the hole to become an abscess if the fluid becomes trapped after it’s closed over. It should be cleaned with sterile saline water.
Cats are famously self-cleaning and tend to take care of themselves, but their ears can cause them a little bit of a problem. One of the most common issues they can encounter is ear mites. Ear mites are nearly microscopic parasites that create a horrendous buzzing noise inside their ears that can cause them to scratch relentlessly. Excessive scratching can lead to infections and swelling with the potential for permanent damage.
Make sure there is an infestation before beginning any sort of treatment as cats’ ears are very delicate, and unnecessary cleaning can introduce foreign matter or cause irritation.
Some of the symptoms a cat will display when they have ear mites are a fever, walking in circles, head shaking, excessive ear wax, loss of balance, and lethargy. Ear mites can also be identified as small brown, black, or red spots in the ear that may resemble coffee grounds. Cats will also often sit with their head tilted to one side.
Using Hydrogen Peroxide
The first step is to clean the ears first of any dirt, excess ear wax, or the residue of the mites themselves. Cleaning also clears the ear of what could block the ear mite treatment from reaching the deeper, more affected areas.
There are a number of over the counter treatments for ear mites, plus veterinarians can provide several options. If the infestation is particularly severe, medication and guidance from a veterinarian may be necessary.
Hydrogen peroxide is an effective way to treat ear mites and is easily found in most pharmacies or supermarkets. It is very important to keep hydrogen peroxide away from your cat’s eyes as it can cause irritation. Cats do have a tendency to shake their heads rapidly when something goes in their ears, so be prepared to cover their eyes.
Keeping to the outside of the ear, use a cotton ball soaked in hydrogen peroxide to gently clean around the ear, then move in circles towards the center of the ear. Reapply once a day for about a week. Always be careful when inserting any foreign object into an ear.
In contrast to cats, dogs’ ears are shaped differently enough that using anything in their ears to clean them should be done carefully and preferably on the advice of a veterinarian.
Similar to human ears, if a dog has an infection or injury in their ear, then applying hydrogen peroxide can irritate or inflame the problem. Veterinarians disagree about whether the benefits of hydrogen peroxide outweigh the risks. Most recommend that it be done under medical supervision.
Both the treatment of ear mites or infections should be done in a similar way. Mix one-part hydrogen peroxide and one-part water, soak a cotton ball or soft rag, and use it to gently wipe around the canals of the ear if they have a mild infection. As an antimicrobial, hydrogen peroxide is great for killing most forms of bacteria and can lessen the earaches your dog experiences.
How hydrogen peroxide works chemically is one of the reasons some veterinarians are wary of using it. When it reacts inside the ear, the extra oxygen is released and leaves only water behind. Water, however, in a dog’s ear can lead to complications. It is difficult for dogs to get water out of their ears, though breeds that are built more for swimming have a little easier time of it. The warm damp area can encourage new bacteria and infections to occur, possibly even more severe than the initial infection.
Hydrogen peroxide is generally considered safe to treat external ear infections, help remove ear wax buildup, and assist with treating blockages. In pets, a careful application around the outer ears and on the visible skin inside of the ears can help with ear mites and infections but should be used very carefully.
A few things to keep in mind when using, or deciding to use hydrogen peroxide:
- Do not use to clean or disinfect ear piercings if other options are available. It can impede the healing process by drying out the skin or causing the hole to heal improperly.
- Do not use if the eardrum is punctured. It can cause ear pain and possibly lead to permanent hearing loss.
- Be careful when applying it to an animal’s ear. Both dogs and cats have difficulty with liquids entering their ears, and it is difficult for them to drain. Dogs are particularly prone to infections that come from leaving hydrogen peroxide in the ear without proper draining as the residue is plain water left in a warm damp area.
- Use sparingly , follow directions for diluting if needed, and always be sure to drain then dry the ear thoroughly. Excessive use of hydrogen peroxide can lead to dry skin, damage to the surrounding healthy skin cells, irritation, and possibly worsen the symptoms of an infection if not properly applied.
- Avoid getting hydrogen peroxide in your eyes. If it gets in your eyes, rinse them out immediately with plain water. If it gets on your skin or in your mouth and is then rinsed away, you should not experience any negative effects.
- DO NOT INGEST HYDROGEN PEROXIDE. Avoid getting it in your mouth where you may swallow it out of surprise or by accident.
- Severe ear infections should be treated by a physician, rather than attempting a home remedy. Many symptoms of minor ear infections that could be cleared up by hydrogen peroxide are similar or in the beginning stages of a more serious issue. A delay in treatment could lead to more serious long-term consequences
- Excessive cleaning should be avoided. Ears are mainly self-cleaning. The wax provides an antimicrobial barrier to bacteria, catching small pieces of foreign matter such as dirt or skin cells, and preventing them from getting deeper into the ear. Using any cleanser like hydrogen peroxide too often can remove too much of the wax, leaving your ears more vulnerable than they were.
The typical 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide, which is sold in most pharmacies and markets, is popular for treating wounds and disinfecting because after it breaks down and finishes fizzing, all that’s left is a water residue. However, most of those solutions actually contain chemical stabilizers to increase shelf life. Chemical stabilizers mean there will be trace amounts of chemical residue leftover.
This is the most common and easily obtained kind of hydrogen peroxide to be found. When recommendations are given for home use, this is usually the kind of hydrogen peroxide they refer to; unless specifically stated otherwise, the stabilizers have been present when these methods have been done previously with success.
If you would like to use a version of hydrogen peroxide that does not contain these stabilizers, look for “Food Grade” on the packaging. Warning: Food Grade does not mean it is safe to ingest. No kind of hydrogen peroxide should be ingested.
Instead, food-grade hydrogen peroxide has been deemed safe by the FDA to be used in the manufacturing and disinfecting process of some food product packaging, which is how that distinction originated. It works the same way, but the residue left is closer to plain water than the other non-food grade versions. Food grade hydrogen peroxide can come in a 35% solution, and if it does, it needs to be diluted down to the 3% solution for all of the above treatment options.