Commonly used to relieve bouts of constipation, that mineral oil that's been languishing in the back of the medicine cabinet may just have a new use—minimizing earache pain. Knowing the facts about using mineral oil for an earache can help you decide whether or not it's appropriate in your particular ear pain situation. Always talk to your doctor before using mineral oil for an earache, especially in infants and children under the age of 2 years.
Earaches, or ear pain, arise for a variety of reasons. According to Dr. Evet Benjamin, pediatrician and author of "Pediatric Answers," the most common cause of earaches in children is middle ear infections; called otitis media in medical circles, middle ear infections develop when your child's Eustachian tube becomes blocked by excess fluid, often as a result of allergies or the common cold. Earaches in adults may also arise from ear infections as well as other causes, such as built-up or compacted earwax, a perforated eardrum, and sinus infections.
Mineral oil may play a role in managing the ear pain that arises from middle ear infections and compacted earwax. According to Dr. Raymond Baker, author of "Pediatric Primary Care: Ill-Child Care," the topical application of mineral oil could bring relief to children suffering from a middle ear infection-induced earache. When used to relieve compacted earwax, which often causes mild earache pain, mineral oil softens and lubricates the chunk of wax, making it easier for the wax to dislodge from your ear canal.
As a general rule of thumb, insert three to four drops of mineral oil directly in the ear canal of the affected ear. Stick with body-temperature mineral oil to minimize possible complications, such as dizziness, which may arise when you insert hot or cold liquids in the ear, suggests MedlinePlus. Keeping your head in a prone position for approximately 15 to 20 minutes after inserting the drops may help the liquid further penetrate into the ear canal. If the earache worsens or the symptoms fail to improve within 24 to 48 hours, arrange an appointment with your primary care doctor for a physical examination.
Don't expect mineral oil to be a cure-all for earaches, especially those caused by a middle ear infection. Children suffering from a middle ear infection often require over-the-counter pain medication, which can be in the form of ibuprophen or acetominophen, according to Baker. Additional home-care solutions include applying a warm compress to the affected ear and lying in a slightly elevated position. In most cases, you should play it safe by taking your child to his doctor as soon as possible to rule out a severe middle ear infection that may require antibiotic medication.
Never use mineral oil for an earache if you suspect a punctured eardrum. Instilling liquid drops into the ear canal of an ear that has a punctured eardrum may lead to complications, such as ear infections and loss of hearing. A common sign of a perforated eardrum is a severe earache that suddenly and inexplicably improves without warning. According to MedlinePlus, other signs of a perforated eardrum include ear drainage, buzzing in the ear and loss of hearing.