What’s in Swimmer’s Ear Drops, and How Do They Work?

Yep, even Anhydrous Glycerin

We’re often told that you should never eat anything (or put anything on your body) if you don’t recognize everything on the ingredients list. But since most of us have no idea what xanthan gum or potassium benzoate are — or more importantly, what they’re doing to our bodies — we’re decoding the ingredients in the many things Americans put in (and on, or near) themselves.

This edition: Debrox Swimmer’s Ear drops, which are made from two separate ingredients that we’ve broken down in the exact order they appear on their website.

The Ingredients

1) Isopropyl Alcohol: To understand how isopropyl alcohol prevents swimmer’s ear, you first need to understand what causes swimmer’s ear — namely, water trapped in the ear canal, which causes bacteria to multiply, leading to infection and inflammation. Isopropyl alcohol prevents this by combining with excess water in the ear canal, then removing it when it evaporates (isopropyl alcohol evaporates much quicker than water). Moreover, isopropyl alcohol has antimicrobial properties that kill bacteria and fungi, which may otherwise cause swimmer’s ear.

2) Anhydrous Glycerin: Anhydrous glycerin works as a base for isopropyl alcohol, but also softens and moisturizes the ear canal, which can decrease itching and flaking. In fact, it can be used to treat all sorts of minor skin irritations.

The Takeaway

Keep in mind that these drops are an over-the-counter remedy and work primarily as a preventative measure. They can mend minor cases of swimmer’s ear, but you may need prescription ear drops, which usually contain a corticosteroid and an antibiotic if your ears are seriously infected.