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Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2008 Oct;265(10):1199-203. doi: 10.1007/s00405-008-0620-1. Epub 2008 Mar 7.

The management of otitis externa: a randomised controlled trial of a glycerol and icthammol ribbon gauze versus topical antibiotic and steroid drops.

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  • 1Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, Eastern Road, Brighton BN2 5BE, UK.


We compared the use of glycerol and icthammol (G&I) ribbon gauze versus topical antibiotic and steroid drops in the management of otitis externa. Patients presenting with acute otitis externa were systematically recruited from attendance in the ENT emergency clinic. Exclusion criteria were age <18 years, diabetic patients, and those who had been previously treated for otitis externa by the department within the last month. A total of 43 patients were recruited with 48 infected ears, the mean patient age was 47 years, (range 18-80 years). Patients were randomised to either insertion of a G&I ribbon gauze or topical ear drops by means of a ballot with no stratification. All patients were reviewed 5 days later. Patients were asked to comment on their pain using the ten point visual analogue pain score. Oedema of the canal wall, presence of debris and visibility of the tympanic membrane were graded on microscopy. Patient satisfaction and return to work were assessed. There was a statistically significant decrease in the pain score between each visit for the entire group of patients and decrease in canal wall swelling (P < 0.001). There was no significant difference between drops and ribbon gauze in terms of pain relief, canal wall oedema, or aural discharge. Following microbiological analysis, 27.8% of bacteria were resistant to neomycin. The cost of treatment with G&I is less than a third of that for topical antibiotic-steroid drops and requires less patient compliance. Patient concerns with the ribbon gauze included its cosmetic appearance and loss of hearing and with drops included frequency of application. We recommend the use of G&I ribbon gauze as first-line treatment, particularly for those who have had allergies to carriers of drops, those that are poorly compliant or with poor manual dexterity, for example patients with rheumatic hands.

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