Drugs used to treat eye disorders (such as glaucoma, conjunctivitis, and injuries) can be mixed with inactive substances to make a liquid, gel, or ointment so that they can be applied to the eye. Liquid eye drops are relatively easy to use but may run off the eye too quickly to be absorbed well. Gel and ointment formulations keep the drug in contact with the eye surface longer, but they may blur vision. Solid inserts, which release the drug continuously and slowly, are also available, but they may be hard to put in and keep in place.
Ocular drugs are almost always used for their local effects. For example, artificial tears are used to relieve dry eyes. Other drugs (for example, those used to treat glaucoma, and those used to dilate pupils produce a local effect (acting directly on the eyes) after they are absorbed through the cornea and conjunctiva. Some of these drugs then enter the bloodstream and may cause unwanted side effects on other parts of the body.
Drugs used to treat ear inflammation and infection can be applied directly to the affected ears. Ear drops containing solutions or suspensions are typically applied only to the outer ear canal. Before applying ear drops, people should thoroughly clean the ear with a moist cloth and dry it. Unless the drugs are used for a long time or used too much, little of the drugs enter the bloodstream, so bodywide side effects are absent or minimal. Drugs that can be given by the otic route include hydrocortisone (to relieve inflammation), ciprofloxacin (to treat infection), and benzocaine (to numb the ear).
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