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An Audiologist’s Take on Essential Oils and Hearing Health

February 27, 2023
Amy Sarow, AuD, CCC-A
Written by
Amy Sarow, AuD, CCC-A
Amy Sarow, AuD, CCC-A

Dr. Amy Sarow is a practicing clinical audiologist and serves as Audiology Lead for Soundly. Her expertise and experience span topics including tinnitus, cochlear implants, hearing aid technology, and hearing testing. She holds a doctoral degree in audiology from the University of Iowa. During her residency at Mayo Clinic, Dr. Sarow was inspired by the three-tiered, patient-centered approach, incorporating clinical work, teaching and research.

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Essential oils have recently been touted as a natural remedy for hearing loss, tinnitus, ear infections, and vertigo. As an audiologist working with patients suffering from these conditions, patients often ask if essential oils are a viable treatment. Keep scrolling to get my insights on the research behind essential oils and their impact on hearing health.

What are essential oils?

So, what exactly are essential oils? Essential oils are concentrated, natural compounds derived from plants (think, lavender essential oil). However, keep in mind that the FDA does not specifically define essential oils (and some brands may use this loophole to make bold claims on essential oil products).

These substances have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. They can be used in aromatherapy or applied topically to relieve pain, inflammation, anxiety, and more. Some claim that they can also be used to improve health conditions as well. With this in mind, let’s dive deeper into some of the research on essential oils.

What do the terms on the label mean?

Be cautious about marketing terms used on labels with essential oils. For example, this is some of the language you might see:

  • 100% pure essential oils
  • Clinical grade
  • Therapeutic grade
  • Organic
  • Locally sourced
  • Certified organic

Unfortunately, these terms are marketing language and don't convey any degree of safety or effectiveness. Technically, the FDA classifies essential oils as food because they are plant-based products. Due to this food classification, claims regarding efficacy don't need to be supported with research.

Essential Oils and Hearing Loss | Claims versus Research

There is very little scientific evidence on how essential oils can help people with hearing loss. Even more so: No published clinical trials or empirical research is available on the effects of essential oils on hearing loss. Unfortunately, as essential oils are considered "food," no evidence is necessary for companies to make claims. Marketing claims sometimes say that essential oils can improve blood circulation and oxygen supply to the body and inner ear. That being said, there is no research available to back up this claim.

Essential Oils and Tinnitus | Claims versus Research

Tinnitus is a condition characterized by persistent ringing or buzzing in one or both ears that affects millions of people worldwide. While tinnitus has no cure, some claim that certain essential oils may help alleviate symptoms. Marketing claims say that essential oils make such as:

  • Essential oils "reduce inflammation," which will reduce tinnitus
  • Essential oils "reduce depression" from tinnitus
  • Essential oils "increase focus and concentration" impacted by tinnitus

It’s just a claim with no research or proof. Unfortunately, no published studies show the efficacy of essential oils on tinnitus. Tinnitus is often caused by hearing loss, which is treated most effectively with hearing aids or lifestyle management strategies. Again, as essential oils are classified as food, companies do not need to back up these claims with clinical trials or other proof before marketing their products for tinnitus relief.

Essential Oils and Ear Infections | Claims versus Research

Ear infections are caused by bacteria or viruses that enter the ear canal and cause inflammation or fluid buildup, which leads to pain and discomfort. Certain companies claim that essential oils can relieve these issues. For example, they make claims such as:

  • Essential oils "treat infection or inflammation"
  • Essential oils provide "pain relief" and discomfort from discomfort in the ear

In the case of ear pain or ear infection, it is vital to remember that a medical condition requires evaluation and treatment from a medical professional. As for evidence of essential oil benefit from ear infection, one study from 2005 suggests a possible benefit for ear infections caused by a fungal infection. However, this is only one small study with a sample size of 104. Therefore, as with any medical condition, please consult your physician first regarding the best treatment options.

Essential Oils and Vertigo | Claims versus Research

Vertigo is the sensation of rotary motion, even when sitting still. Most commonly, vertigo stems from the inner ear. Some marketing claims state that essential oils can help alleviate vertigo symptoms. These are some claims you might hear:

  • Essential oils "reduce inflammation" to help with vertigo
  • Essential oils "increasing blood circulation"
  • Essential oils "improve balance and coordination"

However, there is no published research to support these claims. Any vertigo treatment should be discussed with a medical professional, such as an ENT, audiologist, or a primary care doctor. A common cause of vertigo is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), which is easily treated with a repositioning maneuver, such as the Epley maneuver. Patients often feel better after just one adjustment. One practical application of essential oils here is peppermint oil, and I have used this after treatment to help with nausea. Additionally, inhaling peppermint oil can help to settle the stomach. Please consult your healthcare professional regarding treatment recommendations for vertigo or other forms of dizziness.

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Are essential oils worth a try?

Ultimately it’s up to you whether you try using essential oils for your hearing health issues such as tinnitus or ear infections. However, I would advise against it until more reliable scientific evidence has been gathered on their efficacy for these conditions in humans. In addition, according to a recent study, essential oils should not be used to treat or cure chronic illnesses.

Thinking about using essential oils? First things first: Please consult a medical professional first because you may experience adverse side effects when using a particular treatment. Also, make sure you buy your product from a reputable supplier, so you know exactly what ingredients are in the essential oil.

What should I not do with essential oils?

If you decide to use essential oils, please use caution. Here’s some things to avoid when using essential oils: 

  • Do not place essential oils in the ear canal because it can cause irritation and discomfort.
  • Don't use pure essential oil; always use a carrier oil like coconut, jojoba, apricot, or other oils to dilute it.
  • Avoid making direct skin contact with essential oils.

Conclusion

When it comes down to it, there isn’t enough scientific evidence available right now confirming the effectiveness of using essential oils for improving hearing health issues like tinnitus and ear infections. It’s best to use caution and go with proven methods, such as treating hearing loss with hearing aids or targeted therapies for tinnitus. Finally, always consult your physician regarding dizziness, vertigo, or other health concerns.

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