Topical antibiotic ear drops: are they safe?


S. Pappas, MD, Hippokratio General Hospital, 114 Vas., Sofias Avenue, 11527, Athens, Greece
Tel.: + 302 107 483 770
Fax: + 302 107 778 095


A discharging ear is a very common condition for the general practitioner and the ENT surgeon. Oral and intravenous antibiotics have potential complications, are costly, and exhibit increasing resistance. This study explores the advantages and disadvantages of all common otic preparations and compares effectiveness, safety, cost and complication rates. In chronic otitis media (chronic discharging ears), topical antibiotics seem to be the treatment of choice by comparison with oral or intravenous antibiotics. Cultures and antibiograms do not correspond directly to clinical efficacy, as laboratory determination of resistance does not take into account the high concentration of antibiotics in local preparations. It is safer to use quinolone drops as a first-line treatment, but it is still possible to use short courses of other drops if quinolones are either unavailable or contraindicated (e.g. allergy), or when bacteria are resistant to them. However, in such a situation, a round window membrane involved in an established inflammatory process and therefore less permeable to the passage of topical preparations is the preferred setting, as ototoxicity is a potential complication, especially in the case of gentamicin, in which case patients should be warned accordingly.