Earaches affect everyone — small, large, young and old. You don’t need to see a toddler with an ear infection for a home remedy to start sounding like a good idea.
Earaches have several causes. Swimming in the summer can lead to “swimmer’s ear,” an outer ear infection. Head colds can quickly turn into middle or inner ear infections. An article published in January 2016 in the World Wide Journal of Multidisciplinary Research and Development notes that ear infections are caused by bacteria in the ear canal.
While modern medicine has a remedy, not every ailment requires an antibiotic. That’s what makes tea tree oil for an ear infection such an attractive option. It won’t cure your ear infection, but it may reduce pain and fight minor bacteria.
Antibacterial and Antiviral Properties
According to Michigan Medicine, this essential oil comes from the tea tree plant. It’s one of the most common essential oils in the home. That’s because, as reported in an article published in the February 2015 issue of the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, it’s often used in skin care products.
Tea tree oil is best known for its antibacterial properties. According to the results of a study published in December 2013 in the Journal of Contemporary Dentistry, it was found to be as effective an antibacterial as hydrogen peroxide.
Along with its antibacterial components, this essential oil has antiviral properties, as noted in an article in the May 2013 issue of the Journal of Aerosol Science. In addition, its anti-inflammatory capacity for mice was reported in 2013 in the Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin. As you can see, there's some power behind this oil.
Tea Tree Oil Safety
With so many benefits, it’s natural to wonder if it’s safe to put tea tree oil in your ear. After all, essential oils have contraindications, as explained in 2015's Clinical Aromatherapy: Essential Oils in Healthcare, by Jane Buckle, Ph.D., RN. Tea tree oil is no different — it’s not safe for ingestion and can cause mild to severe allergic reactions. Review all of the negative side effects of tea tree oil before you use it.
The oil is safe, however, for skin exposure, according to a review published in the February 2015 issue of International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, which means it won’t irritate the surface of the ear. Nothing about the oil poses a particular risk to the ear. In fact, the antiviral and antibacterial properties may help stop an infection from forming. Overall, it’s pretty safe for earaches.
The real question is, is it effective?
Will It Actually Work?
Medical News Today states in an article, last reviewed in September 2018, that additional research is needed to determine if tea tree oil for an ear infection works. There's solid evidence, however, that tea tree oil has the same antibacterial impact as hydrogen peroxide. It’s also particularly effective in fighting staph infections, as reported in the June 2013 issue of Journal of Food and Drug Analysis, which means that tea tree oil can kill some of the bacteria in your ear.
Problems occur when infections become serious. Hydrogen peroxide is great when you first get a cut, but it can’t eradicate a severe infection. That’s when you need medical intervention, and the same is true of tea tea oil.
Treat Ear Infections at Home
If you respond to an earache before it becomes an infection, you can save yourself trouble and pain. So what can you do when your ear starts to ache? The Mayo Clinic has plenty of home remedies.
Ear infections lead to the swelling of the ear canal. According to a December 2013 article in the Journal of Contemporary Dentistry, ibuprofen was found to be anti-inflammatory. Tea tree oil offers a natural option for inflammation reduction, at least when tested on mice. It also lacks the side effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, making it a safer choice.
Don’t forget the simple earache solutions, such as taking decongestants, chewing gum or brewing your own ear drops. Another option is dropping warm oil into your ear. Since tea tree oil is antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory, it’s effective for this purpose. Once heated, place a couple of drops in your ear.
Read more: How to Relieve Severe Ear Pain
When to Use It
Tea tree oil has all the right properties to make an excellent home remedy for an earache. Using tea tree oil for an infection is a great first response, but if your earache persists, it’s critical to get medical intervention. While this essential oil seems to have all the makings for an ear infection cure, it’s not — at least not until more research is conducted.
So monitor your condition and when in doubt, always ask your doctor.
- Michigan Medicine: University of Michigan: Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia)
- International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents: Treatment of Acne with Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca) Products: A Review of Efficacy, Tolerability and Potential Modes of Action
- Journal of Food and Drugs: Correlations of the Components of Tea Tree Oil with Its Antibacterial Effects and Skin Irritation
- Journal of Contemporary Dentistry: Comparison of the Antibacterial Efficacy of Tea Tree Oil With 3% Sodium Hypochlorite and 2% Chlorhexidine Against E. faecalis: An in Vitro Study
- Journal of Aerosol Science: Antiviral Activity of Tea Tree and Eucalyptus Oil Aerosol and Vapour
- Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin: Suppression of Inflammatory Reactions by Terpinen-4-ol, a Main Constituent of Tea Tree Oil, in a Murine Model of Oral Candidiasis and Its Suppressive Activity to Cytokine Production of Macrophages in Vitro
- Clinical Aromatherapy: Essential Oils in Healthcare
- Mayo Clinic: Ear Infection (Middle Ear)
- The New England Journal of Medicine: Comparison of an Antiinflammatory Dose of Ibuprofen, an Analgesic Dose of Ibuprofen, and Acetaminophen in the Treatment of Patients with Osteoarthritis of the Knee
- Medical News Today: Which Essential Oils Can Help With Ear Infections?