Does Garlic Actually Help with Ear Infections and Earaches?

You may have heard that using garlic oil for an ear infection is a safe and effective natural alternative to medicinal ear drops because of its antibacterial properties. However, there is a lack of evidence to support this claim.

Close up of purple garlic bunch

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Health Benefits of Garlic

Research has shown that garlic offers many health benefits. Although the mechanism is not widely known, studies have shown that consuming garlic or garlic oil extract has antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiprotozoal properties:

  • Antiviral: Garlic has shown to be helpful in the fight against various strains of flu viruses and other viruses such as cytomegalovirus and rhinovirus.
  • Antibacterial: Garlic may be effective against many types of bacteria, including salmonella, E. coli, and staph infection. It’s thought that garlic can be beneficial to gut bacteria as well.
  • Antifungal: Fungi that have been shown to be sensitive to garlic include Candida, Aspergillus, and Cryptococcus. Garlic extract is thought to reduce the growth of fungus and damage its membranes.
  • Antiprotozoal: Studies have shown that garlic can effectively treat protozoa, small organisms that can cause illness. The compounds allicin, ajoene, and organosulfides in garlic are thought to be the reason for their antiprotozoal properties.

Although garlic contains these properties, it doesn’t mean that it can fight off infection without any other medical intervention.

Benefits for Conditions

Garlic has also been shown to play a positive role in many bodily systems and prevention of diseases:

  • Immune system: Garlic supplements have been shown to boost the immune system and reduce the frequency and severity of common illnesses such as the common cold. It does this by improving immune cell function.
  • Cardiovascular system: Research has shown that garlic may be able to improve the health of the cardiovascular system by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • Brain health: Recent research has found that garlic may be effective for managing and preventing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. It’s thought that the antioxidants in aged garlic extract can help reduce cognitive impairment.
  • Oxidative stress: Free radical buildup in the body can lead to oxidative stress, a damaging effect that occurs when there is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body. Studies have shown that garlic supplementation may help resolve that imbalance. Although more research is needed, the studies that have been done so far showed promising results.
  • Cancer prevention: Garlic may help reduce the risk of developing certain cancers.
  • Liver protection: The liver is tasked with detoxifying the body. If substances build up to dangerous levels, it can lead to toxicity. Studies have shown that garlic may help prevent that. 

Types of Ear Infections

There are several types of ear infections. Outer ear infections affect the eardrum to the outside of the ear, middle ear infections occur behind the eardrum, and inner ear infections affect the deepest part of the ear.

Ear infections can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungus, a buildup of earwax, or water in the ears. Using garlic to help treat an ear infection will depend on the cause and part of the ear that’s affected.

Studies on garlic and ear infections have shown that certain derivatives in garlic may be useful in treating some bacteria-driven ear infections, especially if the bacteria are antibiotic-resistant. These derivatives include allicin and s-allyl-cysteine.

Although garlic may have some efficacy against bacterial and fungal ear infections, it is not as effective as antibiotic medications such as fluconazole and ciprofloxacin.

Home Remedies for Ear Infections

Some ear infections will go away on their own. You can use home remedies to relieve the discomfort of the symptoms. Natural ways to do that include using essential oils, a cold or warm compress, or over-the-counter ear drops, or popping your ears.

Garlic for Ear Infection or Earache

There are two ways that garlic can be used to help treat either an ear infection or an earache. They include raw, whole garlic, and garlic extract in oil form.

Whole Garlic

Although there is limited research to suggest that using a whole clove of garlic to help treat an earache can be beneficial, sticking a clove of garlic in the ear can help to relieve ear pain.

To do that, peel the garlic and cut the ends off. Then, wrap the garlic in gauze and place it in the opening of your ear. Be careful not to push it into the ear canal since this can cause damage. Once the garlic is lightly secured, place a warm washcloth over your ear until the pain subsides.

If you use this method, do so with caution. It may also help to speak to your doctor prior to trying any home remedies for an ear infection or earache.

Ear Infection Doctor Discussion Guide

Doctor Discussion Guide Child

It’s also thought that eating raw garlic can help reduce ear pain because of its compounds, although there is limited evidence to support this claim.

Garlic Oil Drops

Garlic oil is thought to help earaches and ear infections because the derivatives that possess antibacterial properties are broken down and concentrated. Some studies have found that garlic oil can be as effective as oral antibiotics such as amoxicillin.

However, garlic oil cannot cross the barrier of the middle ear to treat a bacterial infection, and likely the only benefit is pain relief. Acute otitis media usually gets better on its own without treatment.

To use garlic oil to treat an earache or ear infection, you can purchase it online or make a solution at home. You will need one garlic clove, olive oil, a pan, a strainer, a glass jar with a lid, a dropper, and a piece of cotton.

You can make your own garlic oil in a few easy steps:

  • Peel and crush up the garlic.
  • Warm the oil and garlic slowly on low heat until the garlic and oil are fragrant.
  • Remove it from heat so that the mixture can cool down.
  • Strain the garlic from the oil while pouring it into a jar.

Once the oil is ready, you can use it as you would any other type of eardrop. It is worth noting that this method is not to be used in place of medications. It should only be used as a supplemental treatment.

Ear infections occur when bacteria, fungi, or viruses get inside your ear and cause symptoms. One such symptom could be ear pain. An earache can occur in the absence of an ear infection and has a wide range of causes, such as injury, jaw joint pain, or inflammation from another part of the body.

Treatment

Treatment for ear infections and earaches varies depending on the cause and severity of the condition. If an ear infection is mild, treatment may not be required at all. Some infections will clear up on their own.

Ear Infections

In most cases of a middle ear infection, treatment is not needed. Oral antibiotics may be used, but not antibiotic ear drops unless there is a perforation of the tympanic membrane.

Earaches

An earache will likely be treated based on its cause. The ache will usually go away once the cause resolves. Sometimes treatment is not required. Treatment options for earache-causing conditions include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Pain relievers such as ibuprofen
  • At-home pain remedies such as a warm washcloth over the ear or neck exercises

Garlic Oil Risks

Using garlic to treat an ear infection or earache comes with some risks. According to research, using garlic topically can cause dermatitis. It could be brought on by an allergic reaction and cause a rash, hives, and blisters. It can also worsen an ear infection because some types of bacteria can thrive in garlic oil.  

Before trying any home remedy such as garlic oil, you should speak to your doctor. Some ear infections require medical treatment and, if left untreated, can lead to serious complications.

Who Shouldn’t Use It

Those who have a ruptured eardrum should not use garlic oil as a remedy for their earache. The hole in the eardrum can allow garlic oil to get through and cause issues to the middle ear.  

Summary

Some research has shown garlic to be an effective remedy for earache and ear infections. However, it can potentially cause dermatitis and irritation to your ear. Before trying this at home, talk to your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you to use and the right treatment for your condition.

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