“Sweet oil” is another term for olive oil. It’s derived from olives, a small, fatty fruit.

When used in cooking, olive oil is extolled for its health benefits, such as high levels of antioxidants and heart-healthy, monounsaturated fats.

People use sweet oil topically to soften skin and condition hair. The term “sweet oil” sometimes refers to a commercially mixed blend of olive oil with almond oil or with essential oils.

Some people also use sweet oil as a home remedy for conditions affecting their ears. However, there isn’t much scientific data pointing to its effectiveness.

Earwax removal

Earwax is medically referred to as “cerumen.” Earwax production is a natural, necessary function. Earwax helps protect your ears from water, infection, and bacteria. It also helps keep the ear canal soft.

In most people, excess earwax is removed automatically through the natural jaw movements associated with eating and talking.

Approximately 1 in 10 children and 1 in 20 adults experience earwax buildup or impaction. This condition isn’t serious but can cause several, uncomfortable symptoms.

Symptoms of impacted earwax include:

  • temporary hearing loss
  • itching
  • ringing or buzzing noises
  • pain

If earwax buildup doesn’t cause hearing loss or discomfort, it does not need to be removed. If symptoms become problematic, earwax can be removed by a doctor.

This is done by first softening earwax with peroxide or saline and then either:

  • flushing it out with water (irrigation) using a syringe
  • suctioning it out with a medical suction device.

Particularly bad ear wax impaction may require a doctor to manually remove some of the buildup.

How to use sweet oil for earwax removal

Sweet oil is sometimes used as a home remedy to soften and remove excess earwax. One study, reported in Health Technology Assessment, found that sweet oil is more effective at removing earwax than using no treatment at all but less effective than using prescribed medications such as Cerumenex (triethanolamine polypeptide).

Other studies indicate that sweet oil may work as well as commercial ear drops.

Earaches

Earaches have a wide range of possible causes. These include:

  • changes in altitude or air pressure
  • ear infections
  • earwax plugs (impaction)
  • foreign objects lodged in the ear
  • rupture of the eardrum
  • sinus infection
  • sore throat

Some earaches require a doctor’s care, especially in babies and children.

Mild earaches may resolve on their own, without the need for medical attention.

Using sweet oil for an earache is a folk remedy that may provide symptom relief for mild pain. To use sweet oil for a mild earache, follow these instructions:

  • Warm sweet oil either on a stove top for 10 to 15 seconds or in a microwave in 8-second intervals. The oil should feel warm, not hot, to the touch. You can use a thermometer to confirm that the oil is no warmer than your body temperature.
  • Lay on your side.
  • Using a sterilized ear dropper, place a few drops into your ear.
  • Cover the ear with a cotton ball, or warm compress, for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Rub gently.
  • Wipe out any excess ear wax, and the oil, with a cotton ball or a wet cloth. Do not push into the ear canal.
  • Cotton swabs may push earwax further into the ear and should be used only outside of the ear, or not at all.
  • If symptom relief is achieved, repeat for up to three days. If not, contact your doctor and discontinue use.

Ear infection

Infections can occur in the outer, middle, or inner ear. Ear infections can be bacterial, fungal, or viral. The type of infection and its location determine the way an ear infection should be treated. Ear infections can be quite painful because of fluid buildup and inflammation.

They are more common in children than in adults. Ear infections can be caused by conditions such as allergies or upper respiratory infections.

Mild ear infections may clear up on their own, but a doctor should treat any earache that causes extreme pain, leaks fluid, or is accompanied by fever.

A study reported in Pediatrics indicated that warmed sweet oil may provide symptom relief for ear infections when it’s used as a naturopathic treatment along with vitamin E and herbs. However, there’s no significant medical evidence indicating that sweet oil helps heal ear infections.

It’s a good idea to check with a doctor before using sweet oil or any other home remedy for an ear infection.

Earwax is here to help Keep in mind that earwax is nature’s way of protecting your ears. It may be tempting to use cotton swabs or other objects to try to remove it, but this is not recommended by doctors. Cotton swabs can push earwax more deeply into the ear’s canal, making symptoms worse and causing serious damage to the canal or eardrum. If earwax buildup is a problem, talk to your doctor.

There are several risks associated with using sweet oil for earwax removal, earaches, or ear infections:

  • Infection. A study reported in Food Microbiology found that microorganisms (such as yeast and other fungi) are found in extra-virgin olive oil. The filtration system used by olive oil bottlers may reduce their number, but the process doesn’t eliminate micro-organisms completely. In addition, fungus can grow in sweet oil after bottling, which might cause a fungal infection when introduced into the ear.
    It’s also important to use a high-quality oil and to sterilize any equipment you’re using to help reduce the risk of infection.
  • Burns. Never use oil that’s too hot when you’re applying sweet oil to the ear. This can burn your ear and ear canal.

Sweet oil should not be used as a substitute for medical treatment. If there are signs of infection, the condition worsens, or it doesn’t improve within one or two days, see a doctor.

Earwax only needs to be removed if it’s causing discomfort or hearing loss. Your doctor can safely address this condition by softening earwax and removing it.

Earaches often resolve on their own. The pain associated with mild earaches can be reduced with over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen. Warm or cold compresses may also help provide relief.

Ear infections sometimes require antibiotics, but often your doctor will recommend a wait-and-see approach. However, any ear infection, especially in a baby or child, should be seen by a doctor to determine the best treatment. Pain relief for ear infections can be managed with over-the-counter medication.

Q:

Can sweet oil (olive oil) help?

A:

There is no solid, evidence-based research that putting oil in your ears is any more helpful than not putting oil in your ears. It’s unlikely to be harmful but won’t offer much benefit.

Carissa Stephens, RN, BSN, CCRN, CPNAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

Sweet oil is a folk remedy used to treat conditions of the ear. It may provide pain relief for minor earaches. It may also help to soften earwax, making its removal easier.

There is no medical evidence indicating that sweet oil is a cure for ear infections.

Always talk to your doctor about any ear condition that causes pain, is accompanied by fever, produces pus, or lasts longer than one or two days.