How to Administer Ear Drops to a Small (Very Strong) Child

Administering ear drops into your child’s ear is simple. Communication is key. First, calmly tell your child what you are about to do; second, unscrew the cap; and lastly, quickly turn out the lights in the living room while your spouse wrestles your child to the floor and places her or him in a straitjacket.

At least that’s what the instructions on the back of ofloxacin should say.

The ENT doctor might as well have asked my wife and I to perform a root canal on our daughter without a local anesthetic in a dark, damp dungeon full of sharp toothed, scaly monsters that hiss than to have prescribed ear drops to place into our daughter’s ear twice daily at five drops a piece, for ten days.

Have you ever tried giving a toddler or small child ear drops that is suffering a painful, ridiculously goopy ear infection or ruptured ear drum, particularly one that has suffered chronic ear infections her entire life, who is on her second set of tubes (and has had her adenoids removed as well)? It’s fairly impossible. My daughter turns into The Incredible Hulk with the strength of Arnold Schwarzenegger circa Mr. Olympia steroid injections in the ahhhhssss phase.

When the Ear Infections Started

Here’s the thing. My daughter is three now. She has battled ear infections her entire life. Tubes work, don’t get me wrong. Life before tubes was hell for her. Restful sleep. Didn’t happen (for her or us). Eating when she had a bad ear infection. Not much at all. When an ear infection hit, she was fussy and irritable — and who wouldn’t be? Have you ever seen what comes out of the ear once it drains? Don’t YouTube it.

Or, you can do like I tend to do and YouTube it, then find yourself three hours later in a trance watching videos with absolutely no relation to why you got on in the first place. You ever seen those videos of bullies getting their asses handed to them? Cinematic greatness. Warning: language.

Moving on…

Oral Antibiotics Were No Match

Amoxicillin. Azithromycin. Cefdinir. Didn’t work. Didn’t work. Didn’t work. She was on one oral antibiotic after the next, which in turn did a number on her stomach as it stripped away necessary good bacteria in an attempt to get rid of bad bacteria, and that’s when we went through the chronic constipation stage. From a parent’s perspective, it saddens you to watch your child be in pain, whether it’s their ear hurting or their inability to use the bathroom fully. From a child’s perspective, it’s even worse because it is a firsthand experience.

Tubes to the Rescue

Fed up with the constant antibiotic prescriptions which seemed to do more harm than good, we scheduled an appointment with an ENT doctor and set up a surgery for ear tubes (myringotomy tubes), a total God send. My daughter was one year old at the time.

What to Expect On the Day of Ear Tube Surgery

It took place in an outpatient setting at the hospital and I volunteered to go back into the surgery room to take my daughter. The ENT doctor had warned that it can be difficult for some parents to see their child put under, so I offered because my wife didn’t know if she would do well; and well, I’m her dad. I’m her protector. It’s my job to make my children feel safe, particularly my daughter I feel.

And yes, it is a little scary (though it’s quick) to see your child go lights out right before your eyes. The reality is, bad things can happen. And while it does no good to think about it beforehand, in my opinion, the risk is there, which is why they make you sign a consent form prior to surgery. Complications do happen to somebody’s kid. You just weigh the risk and options (loss of hearing, chronic pain if she does not get the surgery) and pray to God that the bad thing that happens to somebody’s kid you see on the news is not your kid. You wish it didn’t happen to anyone’s kid. Just the thought makes my stomach raw.

After Surgery

We were in and out, and on our merry way in just a few hours. My daughter was a little out of it, for obvious reasons (general anesthesia), but did extremely well considering. The grogginess wore off a few hours later and she was eating popsicles and simply taking it easy the remainder of the day.

Ear Tubes In, Fluid Out

On day one, or I should say, night one, her ears started draining excess fluid and bacteria (and pus). Are you eating while reading this? The ENT doc gave us a heads up that seeing this and a little blood mixed in was perfectly normal (“a good thing actually”), so not to panic. Perfectly normal.

Days and Weeks Later

Her sleeping immediately changed for the better. Her eating habits, though she has always been a picky eater (and still is), drastically improved. Her hearing became noticeably better, as did her speech. It was like we had a new child. She was happier and healthier — which is what you want for your children ultimately.

Ear Tubes, Round Two

Then, roughly 16 months later, her tubes fell out, as tubes do. (My daughter’s tubes stayed in much longer than is the norm [6-12 months]). We crossed our fingers that her chronic ear infections would be a thing of the past. Sometimes kids simply outgrow them. Not my daughter.

Shortly after the tubes fell out, the ear infections started back. We met with the ENT doc again, did a hearing test due to some concerns we were having (and found out she had 40-50% hearing loss because of fluid build-up and pressure) and set up a second surgery. My daughter was three years old by this point. The ENT also recommended her adenoids be removed as well since they, too, can pose problems with harboring bacteria.

Second Set of Tubes and Removal of Adenoids

The second surgery was to place a second set of tubes and also to remove her adenoids. I still had my fears going into the second surgery (adenoid removal presents its own unique circumstances in the operating room), but fears I kept at bay, because, like I said earlier, worrying doesn’t do any good. Considering how well the first surgery went, I was expecting mostly the same.

The surgery itself went great, and so did the recovery — kinda, sorta. We just weren’t in and out like during the first. Because she had her adenoids removed, she could not leave until she took her pain medication — and her throat hurt like hell. Consequently, she refused to take a pain pill or to swallow anything, including water.

Poor Nurse

So we sat there in the hospital room for about six hours following surgery. The nurse would come in and attempt to give my three year old water, ice, and medicine, and my daughter would clinch her mouth shut, jaw muscles flexed, and do all but curse out the poor nurse.

I haven’t seen someone three feet tall that angry and determined since Verne Troyer went after Mike Myers in that scene from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

I’ll Take My Medicine Once I Finish This Puzzle, and No Sooner

The good news is that I had just bought a smartphone (welcome to 2014) and so had my wife, so I sat in the room drinking free Coca-Colas while reading a novel on my Kindle app. My daughter sat upright in the bed with a sinister brow, playing a princess puzzle game on my wife’s phone.

We were at my daughter’s mercy.

Thankfully, my daughter did perk up eventually. When she was ready, she was ready. She took her medicine — and we were out. We thanked the nurses and apologized for each of their black eyes, busted lips, and grapple holds my daughter placed them in.

Even With Tubes, Ear Infections Can Still Happen

It’s been a good five months since my daughter’s second set of tubes were placed and her adenoids removed, and this is her first ear infection flare up. In context, before she had tubes, she averaged roughly 1-2 ear infections per two months, usually as a result of one antibiotic not working and on to the next.

So, all in all, a vast improvement.

It is sort of a misunderstanding that because a child has tubes, that if they do get another ear infection it means the tubes aren’t working. Wrong, and the ENT doctor will tell you just that before and after surgery. Sometimes the ear infection is just that big and bad. What’s important is if your child does get another ear infection, that the tube is draining properly. Sometimes, the infection is so bad, it can actually block (and clog) the tube so that fluid cannot drain.

I speak from experience with my own daughter. One of her tubes clogged up due to dried blood and pus, and so, in come the ear drops.

So what’s the trick? How do you actually administer ear drops into your small (yet very strong) child’s ear?

With the help of Jesus. Or Vishnu. Or Richard Dawkins. Whoever it is you believe in. I would say the trick is to wait until your child is sleeping to do it, but then you’ll just wind up waking your child and angering them to a point of no return, a point to which they will sleep with one eye open and never trust you when they go to sleep ever again, and then in seventeen or eighteen years, you’ll see their face on a glossy 24″ x 36″ poster in downtown Richmond with the name Starlight and the subheading “Lap dances for $50,” and you’ll realize then that you screwed up your child and are a horrible parent and it’s all your fault, it’s all the fault of those damn ear drops, and that damn ofloxacin prescription, and the fact that you didn’t handle administering ear drops in the proper way.

So, really, my advice, my trick, is to be patient and do your best to explain what you are about to do and why the drops will help them feel better, and be thankful if you can get at least 2 of the 5 drops in their ear before they kick you in the balls (or female region if you are a female reading this) and poke you in the eye.

Really, that’s all I’ve got. That’s my sage advice.

What’s your experience, your advice?

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Photo: Daniel Go. “Ear Infection.” Licensed under CC BY 2.0

12 Comments

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  1. A pleasure of a read as always. I am a big fan of antibiotic eye drop administration in small children. LOL! Nothing I hated more. My son when he was younger had a time with pink eye. My wife always made me hold him down and try to pry open his eye. Don’t miss those days. Nothing you can do to explain to them that it will just take a second.

  2. Great story as always. I have put both drops in the ears and eyes. Eyes are the hardest. You just can’t pry someones eyes open if they hold them shut. Just chalk it up to the joy of parenting!

  3. My son is a calm sweet boy…unless ear drops are involved. Then he screams, yes my kind, gentle son screams bloody murder and can work himself into a frenzy if someone just mentions ear drops. He’s actually crying right now…

    1. I understand. Oh, I understand. My daughter used to turn into Linda Blair from the exorcist whenever the ear drop bottle came down from the shelf. Thankfully, (knock on wood) she never needs drops any more.

      Best of luck with your son. The trick is just to hope you get a little bit in the ear canal. That’s the most a parent can hope for. They really need to make ear drops into some sort of tasty chewable vitamin.

  4. I cannot thank you enough for writing this. I needed a laugh and also an affirmation that I’m not crazy when I believe a sick toddler is ridiculous strong. We’re on ear infection likely #15 in my son’s 2.5 years which has ruptured his left ear drum for the second time- ENT appointment next week. First time administrating ear drops and thought I would google for advice. I’m soon to try the drops while he sleeps- let’s hope I don’t end up with a male stripper on my hands (or someone else’s lap in the future).

    1. Kids are crazy strong. It’s like they become some sort of judo expert and understand grappling maneuvers once you get ear drops near their ear canal. Ear infections are terribly painful, particularly once you see what comes out when they drain. Tubes, though we had to get it done on two separate occasions, were a godsend. Ear infections ultimately impacted my daughter’s hearing and speech, so be on the lookout for that too. My daughter had like 60% hearing loss. It’s improved greatly since being that it’s only temporary so long as you get the ear infections under control. I hope your little one feels better.

  5. We just got tubes put in our 2 year old daughter’s ears….and of course the surgeon wants us to put the 5 drops into each ear. Twice a day. Until the bottle is gone. Holy Lord Almighty you’d think we were pulling her arms out of socket! I thought to Google if there were any tips or tricks to make this less of a nightmare for us as parents. Nope. Nothing. Suck it up, and get it over with is basically what I’ve found. Lol! Not even M&M bribery is working. Your article was a great read. I laughed out loud along the way to the comments. And then laughed some more. Parenting sucks some times. Glad we’re not alone!

    1. Glad you got a kick out of my post. In battling my daughter’s super gunky ear infections over the years, the one thing I learned was this: if you can get one drop in each ear, you are a success. Also, consider something like Zyrtec for Kids at the first sign of a sniffle or cough. We found this helped prevent ear infections from getting out of control. I wish we had known this from the jump. Also, they sell straight jackets on Amazon now. Unisex too.

    2. So about 2 hours after I posted this….I had a brilliant idea to squeeze the drops onto a little spoon, and then once the wiggly child was stable for, you know, the two seconds that they can, you just dump the spoon of drops into the ear canal. SO much easier than trying to squeeze out 5 or so drops. It just takes too darn long to do the drops, so the spoon made life WAY easier, and there was no screaming! 🙂

  6. Omg, THANK YOU!! This truly made me laugh and feel so much better. I have an alsmost 2.5 yo boy who has been battling ear infections since he was 6 months old. Tubes were put in at 12 months and they ARE a God send. We went thru ALL the same things with antibiotics, probiotics speech delay, happy he would just eat…but the ear drops are a fresh kind of hell. I thought, maybe I’m doing it wrong? No way all kids fight this hard and Drs still keep prescribing drops, right? I mean, as soon as I release my child he immediately tries to shake the drops out. I even read a laughable article about how you should have your small child lay on his side for 1-2 min after the drops and then place a small amount of cotten in his ear to help keep the drops from dripping out. I was like WHAT?!?!?! What child does this?? Thank you for just letting me know I am doing it the only way there is to be done.

    1. “Ear drops are a fresh kind of hell.”

      Well said!

      It’s the only time as a parent I’ve ever seriously considered buying a straitjacket from Amazon.

      And the “laying a child on his or her side” to let the ear drops do their magic. I’ve read a similar article like that too. Her doctor told us the same thing.

      I kept thinking (silently), “Are you serious, Clark?”

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