Young woman dripping ear drops to man
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When it comes to the throbbing ear pain known as an earache, people often go to great lengths to get rid of it. Regardless of what well-meaning friends or relatives might suggest, attempting to use hot oil to minimize earache pain is fraught with risk. Warm oil, on the other hand, may be therapeutic in some situations. Always check with your doctor if you develop an earache.

The Facts

An earache can have a variety of causes, ranging from an infection to compacted wax. Most children experience ear pain as a result of a middle ear infection. Other signs of a middle ear infection in children may include fever, increased irritability and fussing, excessive or unusual crying and tugging at the affected ear. Earaches in adults generally arise from compacted earwax or infections of the outer ear, also called swimmer’s ear; typically, swimmer’s ear requires medication, but compacted wax often responds to wax-softening drops, including some oils.


Instilling hot oil directly into your ear as a treatment for an earache could lead to scalding and other damage to the delicate ear canal. Rather than easing the earache, the burn created by the hot oil causes more pain. The hot oil could even come in direct contact with the eardrum. Dr. Mitchell Schwaber, contributing author of “Ballenger’s Manual of Otorhinolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery,” notes that severe burns of the ear canal could cause scarring and narrowing of the canal.


Never put any oil in your ear without checking with a doctor, especially if you think you may have a ruptured eardrum. This could lead to an infection. Add heat to the mix, and you could scald your middle ear and suffer permanent hearing loss. Symptoms that accompany a ruptured eardrum include ear drainage, loss of hearing, buzzing or noises in the ear and intense ear pain.


In certain cases, various warmed oils -- such as mineral oil, baby oil and olive oil -- may relieve the pain of compacted wax and middle ear infections. Carefully heat the oil up to body temperature or approximately 98 degrees Fahrenheit; if you accidentally allow the oil to get too hot, let it to cool to the proper temperature before instilling several drops directly in the ear canal of the affected ear. Other options for pain management include oral acetaminophen and warm compresses on the ear.


If your doctor gives you the thumbs-up to instill body-temperature oil in the affected ear, use preventative safety strategies to minimize your chances of accidentally using hot oil. Skip the microwave. Even though you can heat the oil in record time, you’re more likely to overheat the liquid or create hot spots that could be dangerous when you put the oil in the ear canal. Instead, warm the oil slowly by placing the bottle of oil in a bowl of hot water. As an extra precaution, check the temperature of the oil using a thermometer rather than just relying on a touch test.