Using Essential Oils for an Ear Infection

Essential oils are concentrated oils made with extracts from plants. They contain the essence of the plant they’re derived from.

Essential oils are often used in aromatherapy, and the aroma of essential oils help with various health issues. They have been used to help relieve stress, improve mood, relieve pain, enhance sleep quality, and help with gastrointestinal issues such as nausea.

Some types of essential oils possess antimicrobial or antibacterial properties, so they may also help with fighting off infections. Ear infections are one type that may benefit from treatment with essential oils.

Close-Up Of Essential Oils On Table

Marc Tran / EyeEm / Getty Images

How Do Essential Oils Work for Ear Infections?

Ear infection, or otitis media, is an infection that occurs in the middle ear. The middle ear is the empty space found behind the eardrum. It contains tiny vibrating bones and transfers vibrations to the inner ear. Although ear infections are most commonly found in children, you can have an ear infection at any age.

You can use essential oils topically or inhale their fumes after vaporizing them. For ear infections, you can use essential oils in the ear canal to alleviate symptoms such as pain, ear discharge, and swelling. Some studies suggest that essential oils could also be used to help kill the bacteria that cause ear infections.

You can treat your ear infection with just one essential oil, but some research suggests that using a blend of different kinds will increase the efficacy.

When Are They Safe to Use?

Many people believe that because essential oils are natural and plant based, they are safe for everyone to use for any ailment. However, this is not always the case. Some essential oils may not be safe or helpful for middle ear infections. Some may also be less tolerable to certain people and can cause adverse side effects.

Before you start any home treatment for an ear infection, talk to your doctor. They can help you determine whether essential oils and which ones are right for you and your condition.

Don’t Swallow Essential Oils

Essential oils should never be ingested because they can be toxic. Whenever you use essential oils, follow the instructions on the bottle and don’t put them in your mouth.

Types of Essential Oils for Ear Infections

Not all essential oils will be useful for treating an ear infection. Three specific essential oils may help fight off an ear infection and improve symptoms, including:

  • Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil, also known as melaleuca oil, is derived from the Australian tea tree. It is thought to have antibacterial properties. Although research on using tea tree oil to treat an ear infection is scarce, some older studies suggested that tea tree oil can be a helpful antibacterial remedy. This is because it contains high amounts of terpinen-4-ol, a chemical compound that is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antiparasitic. More recent research has found that terpinen-4-ol can be effective at fighting off a type of bacteria that causes various human infections, Staphylococcus aureus.
  • Garlic oil: Garlic oil has been used for centuries to help treat various health ailments such as parasitic infections, digestive issues, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory illness. Research has shown that garlic oil is an effective treatment that can help reduce the severity and symptoms of ear infections, even if it is used in low concentrations. One study found that two specific garlic derivatives, allicin and s-allyl cysteine (SAC), were promising agents against microorganisms that cause infections in the middle ear and ear canal.
  • Basil oil: Also referred to as sweet basil essential oil, basil oil has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, and antihypertensive properties. The plant contains 38 compounds; two of the most important ones that can help fight off infections are methyl eugenol and methyl chavicol. One study found that these two compounds were effective at killing bacteria. Although newer research surrounding the use of basil oil for ear infections is scarce, one animal study published in 2005 found that the oil may be an effective cure for an ear infection.

Combinations of certain essential oils may also be a treatment option for ear infections. One such combination is clove, lavender, and herb-Robert. In a study that looked at the effectiveness of this combination against ear infections, researchers found that it was able to relieve symptoms and heal the ear infection.

Essential oils are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). To get high-quality essential oils, you must do your own research and purchase them from trustworthy companies.

How to Use

To use essential oils for ear infections, you will want to dilute them first. You can do this using a carrier oil, or base oil. This base oil can help you avoid any irritation that would occur if the essential oil was applied directly to the skin without being diluted.

You should also perform a skin test to see if any allergic reaction occurs before applying the diluted oil to your ear. You should use only one drop of oil for every one teaspoon of the base oil.

There are other ways to use essential oils to treat ear infections:

  • The first is using a cotton ball dipped in the diluted mixture and placing it gently into your ear. While the cotton ball is lodged softly in the ear, the essential oils will begin to drip slowly into the canal.
  • You can also use a cotton swab to rub the oil around the ear in the areas that are inflamed or in pain. This will only help if the outer ear is affected. 
  • You can also place the diluted mixture directly into the ear. First, warm up a few drops of the essential oil and base oil mixture. Once it cools down, you can use a dropper to place the mixture in your ears. You should do this sparingly since the oil can clog the ear.

Essential oils can be used on their own or together. If you choose to use more than one essential oil, it’s important to mix them properly. When combining the oils, make sure they are all properly diluted.

Risks and Contraindications

You should never put undiluted oil directly onto your skin since it can cause irritation. You should also never ingest the oils, even in small amounts, since they can be extremely toxic and can cause poisoning.

The symptoms of poisoning may be different depending on the oil, but can include: 

  • Shallow or slow breathing
  • Gagging or choking
  • Drowsiness
  • Seizures
  • Cough and wheezing
  • Gastrointestinal upset such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Coma

You should avoid essential oils if your eardrum has ruptured. Children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should be careful when using essential oils. It’s always better to speak to your doctor first before starting any new natural remedy.

When to Call a Doctor

If you have been using essential oils to treat an ear infection and it doesn’t clear up, you should make an appointment to see your doctor. You may need prescription medication.

If an allergic reaction occurs, you should also seek medical attention. Signs of a severe allergic reaction include:

  • Severe itching of the eyes or face
  • Swelling that may extend to the throat and cause breathing difficulties
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hives
  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramps
  • Chest tightness
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Wheezing

Ear Infection Doctor Discussion Guide

Doctor Discussion Guide Child

If you do not receive prompt medical attention for a serious allergic reaction, you could experience life-threatening symptoms such as a sudden drop in blood pressure, shock, unconsciousness, and an increased heart rate.

Summary

Essential oils may be helpful in treating ear infections and alleviating symptoms, but more research is needed to support their effectiveness and safety. Make sure to dilute the oils before using them on your ear. It’s best to consult your doctor before using essential oils for your ear infection.

A Word From Verywell

Using essential oils can be one way to treat an ear infection at home, but there are some risks associated with this remedy. If you prefer to go the natural route, speak with your primary care physician before using them and always follow the dilution instructions.

You will also want to ensure that you get high-quality oils, so only buy from a trusted source. Since they are not regulated by the FDA, it can be difficult to determine if the ingredients in the bottle are the same as what’s listed on the label. Do your research before investing your money in them.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ciuman RR. Phytotherapeutic and naturopathic adjuvant therapies in otorhinolaryngology. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2012;269(2):389-397. doi:10.1007/s00405-011-1755-z

  2. Panahi Y, Akhavan A, Sahebkar A, et al. 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. J Microbiol Immunol Infect. 2014;47(3):211-216. doi:10.1016/j.jmii.2012.10.002

  3. Brochot A, Guilbot A, Haddioui L, Roques C. Antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral effects of three essential oil blends. Microbiologyopen. 2017;6(4):e00459. doi:10.1002/mbo3.459

  4. Posadzki P, Alotaibi A, Ernst E. Adverse effects of aromatherapy: a systematic review of case reports and case series. Int J Risk Saf Med. 2012;24(3):147-161. doi:10.3233/JRS-2012-0568

  5. Carson CF, Hammer KA, Riley TV. Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil: a review of antimicrobial and other medicinal properties. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2006;19(1):50-62. doi:10.1128/CMR.19.1.50-62.2006

  6. Cordeiro L, Figueiredo P, Souza H, et al. Terpinen-4-ol as an antibacterial and antibiofilm agent against Staphylococcus aureus. Int J Mol Sci. 2020;21(12):4531. doi:10.3390/ijms21124531

  7. Bayan L, Koulivand PH, Gorji A. Garlic: a review of potential therapeutic effects. Avicenna J Phytomed. 2014;4(1):1-14.

  8. Uzun L, Dal T, Kalcıoğlu MT, Yürek M, Açıkgöz ZC, Durmaz R. Antimicrobial activity of garlic derivatives on common causative microorganisms of the external ear canal and chronic middle ear infections. Turk Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2019;57(4):161-165. doi:10.5152/tao.2019.4413

  9. Li H, Ge Y, Luo Z, et al. Evaluation of the chemical composition, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of distillate and residue fractions of sweet basil essential oil. J Food Sci Technol. 2017;54(7):1882-1890. doi:10.1007/s13197-017-2620-x

  10. Joshi RK. Chemical composition and antimicrobial activity of the essential oil of Ocimum basilicum L. (sweet basil) from Western Ghats of North West Karnataka, India. Anc Sci Life. 2014;33(3):151-156. doi:10.4103/0257-7941.144618

  11. Kristinsson KG, Magnusdottir AB, Petersen H, Hermansson A. Effective treatment of experimental acute otitis media by application of volatile fluids into the ear canal. J Infect Dis. 2005;191(11):1876-1880. doi:10.1086/430003

  12. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Aromatherapy: do essential oils really work?

  13. Government of Australia Department of Health. Essential oils—health warning.

  14. Cleveland Clinic. Anaphylaxis. Updated January 13, 2021.