Ear infection, or an infection of the air-filled space behind the eardrum, is among the most common causes of ear pain. However, inner ear infections may occur as well. Infection of the inner ear is often accompanied by fever, balance problems, dizziness, nausea, or an uncomfortable swelling sensation. While middle and inner ear infections are commonly associated with children, they may affect adults as well.
If you believe you or your child are suffering from a moderate or serious ear infection, consult a medical professional straight away.
Causes and Symptoms
Ear infections often accompany cold, flu, or allergies. This is because bacteria, viruses, or other microorganisms can travel up the respiratory tract and into the middle ear, where they are trapped behind the eardrum. Other relatively common causes of ear infections include cavities, sinus infections, earwax, tonsillitis, and teeth grinding.
Pain associated with ear infections is caused by fluid trapped behind the eardrum.
*For your safety, consult a physician and pharmacist before using natural remedies to treat ear infection — especially if you take prescription medications or have pre-existing conditions. For moderate or severe infections, please consult a medical professional.
Here are a few natural methods for reducing ear pain in and around the ear canal:
Cold or Warm Compress
Cold or warm compresses, such as an ice pack or warm washcloth, can be used to alleviate pain inside the ear. Place the ice pack or warm washcloth over the ear. After ten minutes, alternate between cold and warm.
While more research is needed, the American Pediatric Association states that olive oil may be moderately effective at decreasing ear pain. Rub a few drops of warm extra virgin olive oil into the ear, or drop into the ear canal as one would with ear drops. This remedy is especially gentle and therefore optimal for children.
Essential Oil Remedies
Many essential oils possess beneficial and anti-inflammatory properties which can ease or disrupt an ear infection. However, because of their potency, careful attention to application instructions is advised.
Clove oil has known antibacterial and anesthetic properties. In addition to fighting infection, clove oil may help reduce pain inside and around the ear. A 2014 study showed that mixing lavender and clove oil may prove especially beneficial when treating ear infection. 1
To use clove oil:
Dilute 2 drops clove oil with 5 ml of a carrier oil such as almond oil, coconut oil, jobaba, or olive oil. Massage into the area around the ear canal.
Alternatively, apply clove or a clove/lavender mixture to a cotton ball. Let the oil seep slowly into the ear.
In addition to its well-known relaxation benefits, lavender oil additionally possesses anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties. 1
To use lavender oil:
Apply lavender oil to the outside of the ear using a cotton ball. For sensitive skin, dilute 2-3 drops lavender oil in 5 ml olive oil and apply to the outside of the ear.
It may also be beneficial to massage lavender oil onto the back of the ear, from the lobe to the bone at the top of the ear. This application method is known to reduce ear pain by relaxing muscles around the ear canal.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is well-known for containing antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. A review study conducted in 2006 concluded that tea-tree oil may reduce infection and inflammation by a statistically significant amount. 2
Because of its antibacterial properties, tea tree oil is an excellent choice for treating ear infections.
To use tea tree oil:
Mix a carrier oil, such as olive, coconut, or almond oil to dilute tea tree oil. A ratio of 1 drop tea tree oil to 3-4 drops carrier oil is advisable. Gently rub the oil mixture around the ear canal.
Apply on and around ear. Do not place undiluted oil inside the ear. Placing undiluted tea-tree oil inside the ear canal may irritate the sensitive tissues in the ear.
Multiple studies suggest that oregano oil contains strong antiviral properties. The antiviral properties of oregano oil can be attributed to one of its central ingredients, cravocol. 3
Oregano is also helpful in boosting immunity and fight colds, which may be an underlying cause of the ear pain.
To use oregano oil:
Dilute oregano oil with olive oilat a concentration of 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of carrier oil (e.g. olive oil, or coconut oil) per drop of oregano oil, then apply to the affected area.
Never apply undiluted oregano to the skin or inside the ear. It is considered a “hot oil” and is extremely irritating to the skin or mucous membranes.
A 2005 study found that basil oil was effective in treating ear infections in rats. Researches tested basil oil on rats with either the Streptococcus pneumoniae or Haemophilus influenzae bacteria. Use of basil oil significantly decreased swelling, discharge, and ear pain. 4
Additionally, basil oil is known to be antispasmodic and may help to decrease ear pain and muscle tension in or around the ear. Apply to the area on the back of the ear to benefit from basil oil’s antispasmodic properties.
To use basil oil:
Diffuse and inhale oil to clear inner ear canal, especially in the case of flu, cold, or other congestion.
For topical application, apply 1 drop basil oil diluted with 5 drops carrier oil to the outer ear. Do not place basil oil inside the ear canal.
Thyme essential oil is similarly known for having antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties due to its active compound, thymol. 5
To use thyme oil:
Dilute 1 drop thyme oil in about 5 drops olive oil or other carrier oil (almond, coconut, avocado oil, or similar). For young children or sensitive skin, use more carrier oil (see our dilution guide).
This oil is known for its ability to rapidly decrease inflammation. As peppermint oil is absorbed into the bloodstream, blood vessels dilate, increasing circulation around the body. Peppermint oil helps relieve aches and pains, along with its strong analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.6
Applied to the ear, peppermint oil can decrease swelling while treating infection. However, peppermint is a notably strong oil, so dilution is necessary.
You can also apply this oil topically to the throat to relieve inflammation in the respiratory system. Peppermint oil is also beneficial when used in a room diffuser.
To use peppermint oil:
For congestion, inhale from a cotton ball, or diffuse in the room.
For topical application, dilute 2 drops peppermint oil with 1 teaspoon (5 ml) carrier oil (olive oil, almond oil, coconut oil, or jojoba oil). Massage into the area outside the ear canal or congested area.
Other Remedies for Ear Pain or Ear Infection
Chiropractic care, onion, and oil containing ginger have been known to improve the symptoms of ear infection. While many first-hand users report the benefits of these natural remedies, more research is needed to verify the extent of their efficacy. Read more about additional natural remedies here.
Panahi, Y., Akhavan, A., Sahebkar, A., Hosseini, S. M., Taghizadeh, M., Akbari, H., . . . Imani, S. (2012, December 26). Investigation of the effectiveness of Syzygium aromaticum, Lavandula angustifolia and Geranium robertianum essential oils in the treatment of acute external otitis: A comparative trial with ciprofloxacin. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1684118212002149
Carson, C. F., Hammer, K. A., & Riley, T. V. (2006, January 01). Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: A Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties. Retrieved from https://cmr.asm.org/content/19/1/50.short
Nostro, A., Blanco, A. R., Cannatelli, M. A., Enea, V., Flamini, G., Morelli, I., . . . Alanzo, V. (2004, January 01). Susceptibility of methicillin-resistant staphylococci to oregano essential oil, carvacrol and thymol. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/femsle/article/230/2/191/511554
Kristinsson, K. G., Magnusdottier, A. B., Petersen, H., & Hermansson, A. (2005, June 01). Effective Treatment of Experimental Acute Otitis Media by Application of Volatile Fluids into the Ear Canal. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/jid/article/191/11/1876/2191818
Lambert, R., Skandamis, P., Coote, P., & Nychas, G. (2001, December 21). A study of the minimum inhibitory concentration and mode of action of oregano essential oil, thymol and carvacrol. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1046/j.1365-2672.2001.01428.x
Liang, R., Xu, S., Shoemaker, C. F., Li, Y., Zhong, F., & Huang, Q. (2012, July 2). Physical and Antimicrobial Properties of Peppermint Oil Nanoemulsions. Retrieved from https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf301129k