Sweet oil has long been used for its therapeutic properties. Proponents say that it moisturizes the skin, strengthens the hair and relieves snoring. It's also considered a safe, natural remedy for earaches. But what is sweet oil in the first place and does it really help with ear pain?
If you’re struggling with earaches, pour a few drops of sweet oil into your ear for up to two weeks. This home remedy can help soften and remove ear wax, which in turn, may help relieve the pain. Its safety and efficacy are subject to debate, though, and you should consult with your doctor first.
What Causes Earaches?
Earache is a common health complaint among adults and children alike. Most times, it's caused by a minor infection, earwax buildup or changes in altitude. However, it may also indicate more serious issues, such as a dental abscess or a perforated eardrum. Although earache isn't a medical emergency, it may cause severe pain and discomfort.
If your earache is accompanied by pain when swallowing, you may have a sore throat or tonsillitis, warns England's National Health Service (NHS). The latter causes inflammation of the tonsils. Its primary symptoms include red, swollen tonsils, headaches, scratchy voice, fever and difficulty swallowing.
Read more: Causes of Outer Ear Pain
Earaches can be also caused by a middle ear infection. In this case, they may be accompanied by hearing problems and ear discharge. Children may experience fever, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping. The pain may worsen when you're lying down, which can affect your sleep. If left untreated, ear infections can spread to other tissues or cause more serious complications, such as eardrum tears and hearing loss.
Sometimes, ear pain is accompanied by toothache. If you experience these symptoms, you may have a dental abscess. This issue won't go away without treatment, as the Mayo Clinic points out. In the worst-case scenario, the infection may spread to nearby tissues.
Several home remedies for earache exist. Sweet oil, garlic, ginger and warm compresses are just a few examples. These treatments may provide temporary relief, but they can also worsen your symptoms. It all comes down to the root cause of ear pain.
According to a January 2016 review published in the World Wide Journal of Multidisciplinary Research and Development, earaches can have a multitude of causes, which makes diagnosis difficult. This symptom may indicate thyroid problems, ear inflammation, bone infections or even tumors.
If the pain persists, reach out to your doctor. Early intervention can increase your chances of recovery and prevent complications.
Using Olive Oil for Earache
Sweet oil has been used as an earache remedy for centuries. In fact, this is just another name for olive oil, one of the best sources of heart-healthy fats. You're probably already using it in your favorite salads and homemade meals.
What you may not know is that olive oil is also an excellent moisturizer. You can even use it as a makeup remover, lip balm, shaving cream substitute, hair treatment and much more.
Anecdotal evidence says that sweet oil can soften earwax and aid in the treatment of earaches. According to the British Tinnitus Association, wax lubricates the ear canal and protects it from dirt and microbes. Furthermore, the ear has its own cleaning mechanisms. Under normal conditions, it's not necessary to remove the ear wax.
Problems occur when excess wax builds up in the ear, which may cause pain and affect hearing. The British Tinnitus Association advises against treating this issue at home. However, researchers say that you may use olive oil for ear pain due to wax buildup.
How to Apply Sweet Oil
Sweet oil, or olive oil, is fairly easy to apply. Pour two or three drops into the ear twice a day for up to two weeks, advises the British Tinnitus Association. Keep your head tilted for a few minutes so that the oil can enter and move along your ear canal. Remove the excess with a soft cloth or tissue.
Use this treatment in the morning, before bedtime or whenever it works best for you. If you do it right, the wax will eventually fall out on its own.
The same source states that using olive oil once a week may help prevent wax buildup. Surprisingly, this home remedy appears to be safer than most ear drops on the market.
Conventional ear drops may contain ingredients that irritate the skin. If you have eczema or other skin conditions, your symptoms may worsen. Olive oil, on the other hand, acts as a moisturizer.
Does It Work?
This natural remedy won't directly relieve ear pain. However, it may help reduce wax buildup and hence prevent or alleviate earaches. Its safety and effectiveness are subject to debate, though.
In a small study published in the April 2013 edition of Practice Nursing, 50 subjects used olive oil for ear wax each night for six months. The oil increased wax buildup instead of reducing it. However, inserting it into the ear right before wax removal made the procedure more effective.
Unfortunately, there is insufficient evidence to confirm the efficacy of olive oil for earache, ear infection and other similar health complaints. Some studies suggest that this natural oil exhibits antibacterial properties. According to the Mayo Clinic, ear infections may be caused by bacteria or viruses.
A July 2013 study featured in Frontiers in Microbiology suggests that olive oil contains natural compounds that ward off bacteria. This food ingredient is rich in polyphenols that have been shown effective against Listeria monocytogenes, a pathogen responsible for foodborne diseases. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that olive oil can protect against bacteria that causes ear infections.
Another study, published in the A_frican Journal of Traditional, Complementary, and Alternative Medicines_ in May 2013, states that olive oil has limited or no antibacterial activity.
Real Help or Hype?
As you see, current evidence is conflicting. Olive oil may help with ear wax removal, but it's unlikely to relieve earaches or treat infections. Additionally, sweet oil — marketed as a softening agent and natural moisturizer — may contain several different ingredients, not just olive oil.
According to the McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas, sweet oil and other home remedies can do more harm than good. These alternative treatments may lead to fungal infections in the ear and worsen your symptoms. Ear wax removal drops are not safer, either. Over time, they may irritate the ear canal and cause infection.
Read more: Ear Aches & Tea Tree Oil
If you’re struggling with earaches, consult a healthcare provider. Home remedies cannot replace medical treatment. In some cases, they may lead to complications or mask your symptoms. Don't take unnecessary risks — see a doctor, especially if your pain spreads to the jaw or other tissues or doesn't subside within a few days.
- NHS: "Earache"
- Mayo Clinic: "Tonsillitis"
- Mayo Clinic: "Ear Infection (Middle Ear)"
- Mayo Clinic: "Tooth Abscess"
- World Wide Journal of Multidisciplinary Research and Development: "A Ruled Based System for Ear Problem Diagnosis and Treatment"
- British Tinnitus Association: "Ear Wax Removal and Tinnitus"
- Practice Nursing: "Does Olive Oil Prevent Earwax Build-Up? An Experimental Study"
- NCBI: "Antimicrobial Activity and Action Approach of the Olive Oil Polyphenol Extract Against Listeria Monocytogenes"
- World Health Organization: "Listeriosis"
- African Journal of Traditional, Complementary, and Alternative Medicines: "Cytotoxic and Antibacterial Activity of the Mixture of Olive Oil and Lime Cream in Vitro Conditions"
- University of Texas: "Ear Wax Discussion"
- American Family Physician: "Ear Pain: Diagnosing Common and Uncommon Causes"