Earaches are commonly caused by infections, fluid buildup, irritation or excessive wax. A common home remedy for ear pain is drops of warmed sweet oil, commonly known as olive oil, placed into the ear. While there is a lack of scientific proof that this oil treats earaches, it's possible the warmth of the oil, or the oil itself, can temporarily ease pain. However, it's important to have a doctor check the ears before using home remedies, so that a condition that requires treatment is not delayed or overlooked.
Sweet oil, also known as olive oil, may help relieve ear discomfort caused by wax buildup. Olive oil is one of many substances -- including ear drops, distilled water and hydrogen peroxide -- that are effective at softening earwax so it can more easily come out on its own. Wax buildup can cause discomfort, hearing loss and ringing in the ears.
If the pain is related to an ear infection, home remedies may help if used along with antibiotic treatment, or if used alone -- if the doctor has assessed the ear and recommends watchful waiting. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) clinical practice guidelines, published in the March 2013 "Pediatrics," home remedies for ear pain, such as oil drops placed in the outer ear, may have limited effectiveness. No research links olive oil to effectively treating the underlying ear infection. However, the warm oil may temporarily soothe the pain of an inflamed outer ear.
Ear pain can also be related to dental abscesses or pain related to wisdom teeth. There is no research to show that placing olive oil in the outer ear minimizes pain stemming from dental problems. If the ear pain is accompanied by sore gums or a toothache, see your dentist right away.
Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) can be effective, and are considered the mainstay of pain management in ear infections, according to AAP. In children over the age of 5, ear drops that have added pain relievers are also an option. Other home remedies that may help include applying a hot or cold compress.
Severe ear pain should always be evaluated before any home treatments are used, as using oil drops can delay care if the reason for the pain is a problem that requires treatment -- such as a severe infection or a ruptured eardrum. Never place oil in your ear if there is ear canal drainage or if the ear drum is ruptured. Consult a doctor if the ear pain is accompanied by fever, severe pain, dizziness, swelling or weakness in the face muscles. Also if the severe pain suddenly stops, this can be a sign of a ruptured eardrum, and medical attention is needed.
Revised and reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD