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Ear infections can occur in the inner, middle, or outer part of the ear. They are usually due to an overgrowth of infectious bacteria or a virus.

Some people believe that apple cider vinegar (ACV) may help to treat ear infections. However, there is currently no specific research investigating the efficacy of ACV for ear infections.

However, some research does suggest that apple cider vinegar has antimicrobial properties. We discuss this research and consider whether these properties in the vinegar might help treat ear infections. We also provide tips on how to use the vinegar for ear infections, as well as the potential risks involved.

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ACV may have antibacterial properties.

A 2018 laboratory study investigated the general antimicrobial effects of ACV. The researchers studied two species of bacteria that are a common cause of ear infections — Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus).

The researchers applied ACV to each of the bacterial cultures. They found that the ACV inhibited the growth of both types of bacteria.

The researchers then prepared samples of bacterial cultures mixed with immune cells. They exposed some of these samples to ACV and found that these showed fewer signs of inflammation. This suggests that ACV could reduce the severity of certain bacterial infections.

The researchers of the 2018 study note that the antimicrobial effects of ACV may partly be due to its acetic acid content. Research has shown that acetic acid can damage the cell walls of microbes.

In a 2017 study, ACV showed strong antibacterial effects, even at concentrations as low as 25%.

It is still not clear whether ACV has antiviral properties.

So far, research into the antibacterial effects of ACV appears promising. However, scientists have conducted most of their research on bacterial cultures grown in the lab, so they do not know whether ACV will have the same effects on people. Scientists will need to carry out well controlled studies on humans to investigate this claim.

The simplest way to use ACV for ear infections is to add it to homemade ear drops. However, do not use ACV ear drops in place of conventional treatments, and always talk to a doctor first.

To make the ear drops, combine equal parts of ACV and warm water. Ensure the water is only slightly warm as the skin within the ear will be sensitive.

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A person can apply ACV to their ear with a dropper.

To get the drops into the ear canal, follow the steps below:

  • Suck up some of the ear drop mixture, using a dropper.
  • Sit or lie with the head tilted to one side so that the affected ear faces upward.
  • Squeeze 4–5 drops of the mixture into the ear.
  • Keep the head tilted for a couple of minutes to ensure the drops reach the ear canal.
  • Tilt the head in the opposite direction to allow the mixture to fall out.
  • Use a clean face cloth or cotton ball to wipe the ear, but do not insert anything into the ear canal.

Repeat the above process a few times each day.

It is essential to dilute ACV. Stronger concentrations of ACV may damage the sensitive skin of the ear.

Even after diluting ACV, irritation is still possible. If irritation occurs, stop using the mixture.

Anyone who suspects they have an inner or middle ear infection should avoid using ear drops until they see their doctor. Ear drops are also not suitable for people who experience drainage from the ears.

People who experience ear drainage or an infection of the inner or middle ear should see a doctor.

Home remedies that might help to alleviate symptoms of pain and swelling that often accompany an ear infection include:

Warm compresses: Laying a warm towel over the affected ear helps to increase circulation in the area. This, in turn, can help to reduce pain.

Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers: OTC drugs such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) can help to reduce pain and fever.

Other OTC products: Some OTC ear drops may help alleviate symptoms while stopping the underlying bacterial infection from spreading. People should ask their pharmacist for advice on which drops to buy.

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People should speak to a doctor if they have fluid leaking from their ear.

An ear infection can cause serious complications if left untreated.

People should see a doctor if their symptoms worsen, or they experience any of the following:

A person with these symptoms may require antibiotics or other treatments.

Ear infections are usually the result of a viral or bacterial infection. They can be very painful.

ACV shows promise as an antibacterial treatment. However, there is no specific research investigating ACV as a treatment for ear infection.

As a result, people who wish to try ACV ear drops should use them in combination with conventional medical treatments.

People who have ear drainage or an infection of the middle or inner ear should not use ACV. People should see a doctor if symptoms worsen or persist.

Apple cider vinegar is available in grocery stores and online.

Q:

Are ear drops and apple cider vinegar both unsuitable for people with infections of the inner and middle ear, and those who experience drainage from the ears?

A:

An infection of the middle ear is known as otitis media. Ear drops will not reach this area because the eardrum blocks anything from getting into the middle ear. If someone has a perforated eardrum, then liquids could get into the middle ear. However, anyone who has a perforated eardrum should avoid ear drops because foreign organisms can enter the middle ear and start or worsen an infection. Anyone with a middle ear infection, ear drainage, or a perforated eardrum should see a doctor before using any ear drops.

Kevin Martinez, MD Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.