Infection of the ear, also called otitis, occurs most often in children, but it can also affect adults. Ear infections can be challenging to treat.
Essential oils are concentrated liquids that contain extracts of plants from around the world. The manufacturers of these oils often use steaming to separate the natural oils from the rest of the plant.
Essential oils are suitable either for inhaling or for diluting and applying topically. It is vital never to ingest an essential oil.
Researchers have discovered that some essential oils have antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, which may make them beneficial in treating infections.
In this article, we look at the best essential oils to try for ear infections, how to use them, and other natural remedies. We also consider whether or not essential oils are effective and safe to use.
Some people find that essential oils can help reduce the symptoms of an ear infection, which typically include pain, swelling, and ear discharge.
Some essential oils have antibacterial or antiviral properties that may allow them to kill bacteria and help fight off an ear infection. Other essential oils may prevent viruses from reproducing.
However, there has been no high-quality research into whether or not essential oils are an effective treatment. Proof of how well they work is generally limited to anecdotal evidence.
Some diluted essential oils may help fight off ear infections when people use them as ear drops or rub them around the ear.
However, there is minimal high-quality, up-to-date evidence that any particular oil is beneficial.
Based on the existing evidence, we look at some of the best essential oils that people can try for ear infections:
Lamigex ear drops
A small-scale 2014 clinical trial compared the effects of standard ciprofloxacin ear infection drops with a mixture containing the following essential oils:
- clove oil, Syzygium aromaticum
- lavender oil, Lavandula angustifolia
- herb-Robert oil, Geranium robertianum
The participants received 3 drops every 12 hours over the course of a week. The researchers found that this mixture, named Lamigex, was as effective as the ciprofloxacin ear drops. Both treatments improved symptoms of tenderness, itchiness, and discharge.
Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil contains an antibacterial substance called terpinen-4-ol.
A review study from 2006 concluded that tea tree oil has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Additional evidence for the antibacterial effects of tea tree oil comes from a 2014 review study, which concluded that tea tree oil may be effective in treating acne, possibly because it kills the bacteria that cause this condition.
However, the researchers say that more research is necessary to validate these findings.
Doctors need more evidence on the effectiveness of tea tree oil before they can recommend it as a treatment option for bacterial ear infections.
Mexican oregano oil, or Lippia graveolens, may also help with ear infections.
A study from 2011 included in vitro tests of oregano oil, which showed that it had antiviral capabilities.
These effects are primarily due to a component in the oil called carvacrol.
However, this study does not prove that the oil would be effective against ear infections. The researchers state that further research is necessary to determine how effective this oil is.
Basil oil, or Ocimum basilicum, is another essential oil that could possibly help with ear infections.
A study from 2005 found that basil oil was effective in treating ear infections in rats. Researchers used rats with infections from either Streptococcus pneumoniae or Haemophilus influenzaebacteria.
The results indicated that basil oil led to more significant improvements in rats with both types of infection compared to a placebo.
There are several other oils that various websites and manufacturers promote. Researchers have carried out studies on some of these oils. However, in most cases, there is no evidence to substantiate the claims that they will help with ear infections.
Some other oils that people have tried or recommended for ear infections include:
- garlic oil
- peppermint oil
- mustard oil
- thyme oil
How to use essential oils
Essential oils require the use of carrier oils to dilute them.
People should use a teaspoon of carrier oil for every 1–2 drops of essential oil. Examples of carrier oils include:
- coconut oil
- olive oil
- jojoba oil
Learn more about carrier oils here.
People can use a few different techniques to apply essential oils to the ear:
- Use an oil mixture to clean the outside of the ear. This should remove any bacteria or other infectious material. An oil with anti-inflammatory effects, such as tea tree oil, could reduce swelling in the outer part of the ear.
- Soak a cotton ball in essential oil. Place the cotton ball on the opening to the ear and let the oil slowly seep into the ear. Do not place the cotton ball inside the ear.
- Warm a few drops of essential oil and olive oil. Place the drops directly into the ear. This method can help break up ear wax and allow the oil to reach deeper parts of the ear. Avoid using too much oil as this can clog the ear.
When warming up essential oils, it is vital not to make them too hot because the delicate structures in the ear are sensitive to heat.
It is also crucial for people to ensure that they will not have an allergic reaction or be sensitive to the oil. It is possible to test this by dabbing a tiny amount of the oil onto a small area of skin. If the skin does not react after a few hours, it should be safe to use the oil.
The skin inside the ear may be more sensitive than other areas, so people should continue to monitor the skin for any signs of irritation.
Are essential oils safe to use for ear infections?
Essential oils are natural, plant-based substances. However, this does not necessarily mean that all essential oils are safe for everyone to use.
People should consider that:
- Some oils can irritate the skin, especially with direct application. Even mixing the oil with another oil may not be enough to prevent irritation.
- Anyone with an allergy to a particular plant should avoid contact with its oil.
- It can be dangerous to put anything into the ear if the eardrum has ruptured. A doctor can advise on the best course of action to take if this has occurred.
- Essential oils can be toxic if a person ingests them.
People should talk to a doctor before using any new medication, especially when they are pregnant, breastfeeding, or using essential oils to treat infections in children and babies.
Other natural remedies for ear infections
Ear infections do not usually require treatment. They will often go away on their own within 2 weeks. Pain and swelling often resolve within a few days.
In addition to or instead of essential oils, people can try the following natural remedies for an infection of the ear:
- Applying a warm compress to the ear. A warm compress is a damp towel or cloth that is slightly above body temperature. Warm compresses can help reduce swelling.
- Using olive oil. Placing a few drops of olive oil into the ear canal may help break up ear wax and potentially reduce pain as a result.
Ear infections typically resolve without treatment. People who wish to speed up recovery or reduce symptoms naturally can try using essential oils.
With sufficient dilution, essential oils are generally safe for most people, but they may not be as effective in treating ear infections as some advocates claim.
Before using any essential oil, people should test it on a small area of skin.
If the ear infection does not clear up within a 2-week period or an essential oil has an adverse effect, the individual should speak to a doctor about other treatment options.