Using Olive Oil for Earwax and Ear Infections

Olive oil has been used as a home remedy for clearing earwax and treating ear infections for years. It may help break up hardened earwax that is blocking the ear canal, while hydrating the skin in the ear. Using olive oil in the ear does not seem to be dangerous, but it has not been proven as an effective way of treating earwax or ear infections. 

Earwax (cerumen), the yellow waxy secretion from the outer ear, plays an important role in keeping ears healthy. There is no reason to remove it if it is not causing issues or hearing loss.

Earwax is produced by glands in the ear canal. It makes its way to the outer ear, and eventually falls out or is washed out. Earwax protects the ear by trapping dirt and bacteria and keeping them from traveling inside the ear. It also blocks water from entering the ear canal and irritating the sensitive skin inside the ear. 

Some people produce more earwax than the ear needs, leading to a buildup of hardened wax that can block the ear canal. Attempting to remove it on your own with a cotton swab could push the hardened wax deeper into the ear canal. 

Pouring extra virgin olive oil in a glass bowl

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Does Olive Oil Work?

The limited research available has found that using a small amount of olive oil in the ears is most likely safe. However, it has yet to be proven to be effective at helping with earwax or ear infections.

Research indicates that olive oil is not as successful at breaking up excess earwax as over-the-counter ear drops. Symptoms of an earwax buildup include a feeling of fullness inside the ear, pain, tinnitus (a ringing, roaring, or other noise in the ear), and partial hearing loss. 

Earwax

Olive oil can soften hardened earwax and allow it to be removed from the ear more easily. It's important to note that olive oil does not dissolve earwax.

A 2013 study followed people who placed a drop of olive oil in one ear every day for 24 weeks. Researchers found that the participants who used olive oil daily developed more earwax in the treated ear than in the ear that was not treated. In fact, participants experienced 99.5% more earwax in the ear treated with olive oil than the other ear. However, spraying olive oil into the ear before a physician-performed irrigation appeared to help remove the earwax more easily.

A 2020 review also found that putting warm olive oil into the ear before doctor irrigation was effective at softening the wax before the procedure. Ear irrigation involves flushing the ear with warm water and sometimes removing excess wax by hand. It’s important to note that many of the reviewed studies were very small, and more research is required before it’s safe to draw conclusions about using olive oil to treat earwax. 

Ear Infection

Olive oil has been proven to have antimicrobial properties, but it is not clear if it can kill the bacteria that lead to ear infections. 

How Safe Is It?

It appears that placing a small amount of olive oil into your ears is safe in most cases. Side effects of using olive oil in the ear are rare, but they may include itching, dizziness, skin irritation, and inflammation of the outer ear canal.

The safest way to remove excess earwax at home is with a clean washcloth in the shower. Cotton balls and applicator tips should be avoided because it is easy to push the swab too far into the ear canal and damage the eardrum. 

If you are concerned that you have a ruptured eardrum, do not place any liquid, including olive oil, in your ear. Rather, see your doctor right away. Symptoms of a ruptured eardrum include ear pain, drainage, hearing loss, tinnitus, dizziness, and weakness of the facial muscles. The discharge associated with a ruptured eardrum may be clear, bloody, or filled with pus. 

How to Use It

Always check with your doctor before starting a new health regimen. If you’d like to try using olive oil to remove excess earwax, be mindful that this treatment has not been medically proven.

To place a drop of olive oil into your ear, fill a clean eyedropper with olive oil. This will help control the amount of olive oil used. Lie on the opposite side of the affected ear, and gently squeeze one drop into your ear. It may help to gently pull your outer ear up and back to open your ear canal. Then lightly massage your ear to work the olive oil into the hardened wax. 

Once you have cleaned out your ears, dry them thoroughly with a clean towel. A hair dryer set to the warm (not hot) setting may help as well. Try this process once per week for one to two weeks. If you don’t notice any improvement or if you experience side effects, see your doctor. 

When to Call a Doctor

Check with your doctor before starting a new olive oil regimen in your ears. Your doctor may have more effective tools for removing earwax or treating ear infections. Your primary care doctor or an otolaryngologist (also called an ear, nose, and throat, or ENT, doctor) can help you treat a buildup of earwax by irrigating the ear canal in their office and removing the wax with special tools. If you wear hearing aids, see your doctor every three to six months to check your ears for excess earwax. 

Call your doctor if you develop symptoms of a ruptured eardrum such as pain or discharge. Any hearing loss should also be reported to your doctor right away.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you put olive oil in your ear? 

To put olive oil into your ear, use a clean eyedropper to draw olive oil out of its bottle. Lie on the opposite side you plan to treat, and gently place one drop of olive oil into your ear. Pull your outer ear up and back to open your ear canal.

How long should you leave olive oil in your ear? 

The current research has not determined an exact amount of time. Start by placing the olive oil in your ear and remaining on your side for five minutes. It may be helpful to lightly massage your ear to work the olive oil into the earwax. 

What is the best type of olive oil to put in your ear?

Whether you are cooking with olive oil or placing it in your ear, it’s important to buy a good-quality extra-virgin olive oil that is free of chemicals and artificial additives. Look for cold-pressed olive oil because it has not been damaged by heat and still contains health benefits. 

Is it safe to put olive oil in your ear?

The limited research available suggests that while putting olive oil into your ears may not be effective at treating earwax or ear infections, it is most likely safe. Stick with quality extra-virgin olive oil and start with just one drop or spray. If you believe that you have any broken skin in your ear or a ruptured eardrum, do not use olive oil. 

Does olive oil dissolve earwax?

No, olive oil does not dissolve earwax. It’s believed that olive oil may help soften and loosen hardened earwax, making it easier to remove from the ear canal. 

Can olive oil make earwax worse?

Yes, it is possible that olive oil could make earwax worse. A 2013 study found that people who placed olive oil drops into one ear every day experienced significantly more earwax in the treated ear than in the untreated one.

A Word From Verywell

Using olive oil to naturally treat a buildup of earwax has not been proven effective, but it is most likely safe to try. Side effects are rare and may include itching, dizziness, skin irritation, and inflammation of the outer ear canal. To place olive oil into your ear, lie on your side and place one drop into the ear canal using a clean eyedropper. 

Never place olive oil (or any other substance) in your ears if you believe that you have a ruptured eardrum. Talk with your doctor about the most effective treatments for earwax and ear infections. 

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Article Sources
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