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Ear Oil for Ear Infections

I am often asked by parents if ear oil can help prevent ear infections.  The answer is no.

Ear oil can be used to moisturize the ear and to help excess wax slide its way out.  Ear oil is a safe and effective moisturizer and wax softener.  For those of us with dry, flaky, or excessively waxy ears, oil may be a treatment option.

However, wax is typically beneficial to the ear because it collects dust and foreign particles that do not belong in the ear canal.  After these particles are caught in the wax, tiny hairs help move the wax out of your ear canal.  The result is a self-cleaning ear. 

Additionally, ear oil can literally not even touch the most common kind of ear infection – infection of the middle ear.  Middle ear infections, like the ones children typically get, are the result of bacteria and mucus filling the space behind the eardrum.  The most common treatment for these is oral antibiotics. Multiple recurrent infections of the middle ear or persistent middle ear fluid can also be treated through the placement of ear tubes.

Outer ear infections (swimmer’s ear) are the result of an excessively wet ear canal.  Ears prone to outer ear infections would actually benefit from being a little drier.  If you are looking to dry the ear, a few drops of a 50/50 mixture of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar can be placed into the ear canal and then allowed to drain out.  This combination will help dry the ear and also make the ear a little less inviting environment for ear infection causing bacteria.

Allen Marshall, MD, is an ear, nose and throat physician with Wake Specialty Physicians – ENT.