Ear infections commonly occur in both adults and children, and they cause a variety of symptoms, including pain. In certain situations, you might be able to use olive oil as a self-care measure for relieving the pain -- or even in some cases preventing infection -- but home treatment isn't always appropriate, so check with your doctor before attempting to use it.
Types of Ear Infections
Ear infections can occur in the middle ear or the outer ear. Middle ear infections, also called otitis media, develop frequently in babies and children and generally come about as a result of cold- or allergy-related inflammation that seals the Eustachian tubes and leads to fluid buildup and eventually infection in the middle ear. Outer ear infections, also called otitis externa, develop when bacteria proliferate in your ear canal, often as a result of trapped water or a cut in the skin lining the ear canal. Swimmers of all ages commonly suffer from otitis externa.
Middle Ear Infections
Warmed olive oil instilled in the affected ear often helps minimize pain resulting from a middle ear infection, says Dr. William Sears, pediatrician and co-author of "The Portable Pediatrician." When this oil makes contact with the inflamed eardrum, it has a soothing effect on the swollen, tightly stretched tissue, which might help relieve the pain. To use this home remedy, place several drops of body-temperature olive oil in the ear canal of the affected ear, following up with warm compresses and over-the-counter oral pain medication, if necessary.
Outer Ear Infections
Symptoms of an outer ear infection can include redness, itching, swelling and pain in the outer ear, particularly when tugging on the lobe of the ear. Although olive oil typically doesn't aid in healing outer ear infections, it might help prevent them, says Dr. Greg Stewart, family physician and co-author of "Do I Need to See the Doctor?" Instilling two to three drops of olive oil in each ear canal just before going swimming helps lubricate the tissue lining the ear canal and might aid in keeping water from getting trapped there. The olive oil also helps prevent the buildup of excessive earwax, which often prevents water from draining out of your ear canal, eventually leading to infection.
Always check with your primary care doctor before putting olive oil in the ear canal of a person suffering from an ear infection, especially a young child. Once you've warmed the olive oil, use a thermometer to ensure that it is at body temperature to minimize your chances of accidentally burning the sensitive ear canal tissue. Olive oil and other liquid ear drops aren't appropriate for use in people who have ear tubes or might have a ruptured eardrum, a condition generally accompanied by ear discharge and severe ear pain. Don't expect olive oil to single-handedly cure ear infections: If you suspect an ear infection, arrange an appointment with your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment, which might involve topical or oral antibiotics.