Ear infections are one of the most common reasons parents take their children to a doctor. According to the National Institutes of Health, 4 out of 5 children will have an ear infection by their 3rd birthday. But is this a valid statistic?
Ear Infection vs Ear Pain
While many ear infections are bacterial in nature, symptoms mimicking an ear infection can also be caused by a virus, teething, or allergies. The only way to truly know if it’s an infection is for the doctor to take a culture.
I’ve had numerous parents bring their children into my office with an “ear infection” that was diagnosed simply by the doctor looking in the ear. No further testing was done, and yet the parents walked away with a prescription for antibiotics. These children were given an unnecessary drug (with its own list of side effects) and were then further contributing to the statistic I mentioned above.
Red and inflamed eardrums are not always signs of infection. They are, however, signs of fluid and irritation in the area. When the fluid continues to build up in the canal, it will eventually cause the eardrum to bulge which in turn leads to pain.
Children have Eustachian tubes that are more horizontally oriented than adults. This makes it harder for gravity to assist in draining any fluid that does build up. And children tend to hold more heat and congestion in their heads, too. This combination creates a perfect situation for fluid to build up behind their eardrums.
But again, this does not signify your child has an ear infection.
Caring for Your Child During an Ear Infection or Earache
If your child is tugging at the ear and acting a bit uncomfortable, don’t assume that it’s an infection. And don’t assume you need to take him or her to the doctor right away to get antibiotics even if it is an infection. The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages a “wait and see” approach. So consider staying at home where you can care for and comfort your child.
What can you do in the meantime? Here are 12 natural remedies for ear infections that you can use during the recommended “wait and see” time period.
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Remedies for Ear Infection or Pain
1. Visit Your Family Chiropractor
As a chiropractor, ear pain is the number one reason parents bring their child in to see me. In most instances, they heard from another parent that getting their child adjusted not only helped their child’s ear pain but stopped the recurrence of subsequent ear infections.
While chiropractors do not treat ear infections, we do care for the structure of the body. The first few vertebrae of the neck have a direct neurological connection to the muscles of the Eustachian tube. When there’s a subluxation (or misalignment) in one or more of those vertebrae, it can cause the nerves to send the wrong signals to the muscles they control. In turn, this affects the shape of the Eustachian tube and makes it even more difficult for built-up fluid to drain.
Gentle, specific chiropractic adjustments will remove the nerve interference in the upper neck which will then allow the body to correct itself. Many times it stops the infection in its tracks only to never occur again.
2. Homeopathic Medicines
Have you ever taken Arnica for an injury? If you’ve used the little white sugar pills from the health food store, then you know a little bit about homeopathic medicine.
Here are a few homeopathic medicines that can be useful remedies for ear infections and earaches:
- Chamomilla – indicated when the child is very irritable from ear pain
- Silicea – good option if there is a lot of pus draining from the ear
- Hepar sulphuris calcareum – can be useful in cases where there is an infection that presents with fever and chilliness and an accompanying cough
- Pulsatilla – indicated when the child is very whiny and has a runny nose
- Belladonna – might be used in cases where the infection affects the right ear, the ear canal is bright red in color, and they have a high fever
There are many other homeopathic remedies that may be employed to help with ear pain or infections. Choosing the correct one requires careful examination of the person as a whole.
3. Garlic Oil
Garlic oil is a simple DIY home remedy that has amazing antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties. Allicin, a chemical component in garlic, is known to fight off bad bacteria and also reduce inflammation. Olive oil is very useful as a soothing substance. Put them together and you’ve got two of the best natural remedies for ear infections and pain combined into one.
Check out this video to learn how to make garlic oil at home:
After making the garlic oil, lay the child down in bed or on the couch with the affected ear up. Place a couple of drops of the warmed oil in their ear and massage the ear to move the oil down the canal. Then put a cotton ball in the ear to prevent the oil from draining out.
If you’d like, you can place a warm, wet towel or rag over the affected ear. This may help soothe the child even further. It also can aid in dilating the blood vessels and improving circulation to the area. This in turns brings healing nutrients to the affected ear.
Should you choose not to make your own garlic oil, you can find premade garlic mullein oil at most health food stores and on Amazon.
**Disclaimer: do NOT place garlic oil in the ear if you suspect the child has a ruptured eardrum.
4. Essential Oils
While essential oils are not meant to be put directly in the ear, there are quite a few essential oils that can be applied topically around the ear. Here are a few tried and true essential oils that I know many people use as remedies for ear infections and pain:
- Tea Tree
Be sure to dilute these oils before applying topically. Typically 2 drops of the essential oil to 4-5 drops of a carrier oil like olive oil, jojoba oil, or coconut oil will do the trick. You can gently massage the mixture around the outer portion of the ear and onto the ear lobes or you can apply to a cotton ball and place the cotton ball at the opening of the ear. Do not place any of the oils directly into the ear canal and do not place the cotton ball into the ear canal.
If you’d prefer pre-diluted essential oils, I highly recommend these roll-ons from Plant Therapy. Germ Destroyer would be a great essential oil mixture to use topically during an ear infection.
5. Warm Compress
Warm things are very soothing and healing. As I mentioned above, heat dilates blood vessels, improves circulation, and brings much needed nutrients to the area. When your child presents with an earache, a warm compress might make all the difference in their comfort.
There are two types of warm compresses: moist and dry.
To make a moist compress, grab a washcloth. Soak it in hot water and wring it out. Then place the warmed cloth over the affected ear. Repeat this process as needed as the washcloth cools off.
There are a couple of ways to make a dry compress. Fill a hot water bottle with warm water, then place it over the affected ear with a paper towel or thin cloth as a barrier between the bottle and the skin. Or make a salt or rice sock by warming salt or rice in the microwave and placing in a sock. Put the sock over the affected ear. Repeat either of these methods as the heat dissipates.
I found an interesting statement that every teaspoon of breastmilk has 3,000,000 germ killing cells in it. No wonder I’ve found it to be one of the best natural remedies for almost every illness including ear infections.
If your little one is nursing, consider placing a few drops of breastmilk in the affected ear in the same manner as I discussed with the garlic oil. Also, be sure to nurse, nurse, nurse during the course of this ear infection.
If you have an older child or adult that has an ear infection AND you have fresh or frozen breastmilk available, use it! They may think it’s gross, but they’ll thank you for it if it gets rid of the pain and misery of the infection.
Again, this pairs well with a warm compress as mentioned above.
**Disclaimer: do NOT place breastmilk in the ear if you suspect the child may have a ruptured eardrum.
7. Good nutrition
Eat healthy foods and drink lots of clear fluids. We hear this statement a lot when talking about health and healing. Do you know why? Because it’s true!
There are certain foods you want to avoid during an earache or infection. Foods such as dairy, sugar, refined carbs, and packaged foods can be pro-inflammatory, allergenic, and mucus-producing. The last thing you want to do is to cause inflammation, irritation, and increased mucus production in an already inflamed, irritated, and mucus-filled area.
On the same note, there are definitely foods that you want to consider using during an ear infection or earache to encourage healing. Some of these foods are water, bone broth, garlic, fruits, and vegetables. These foods can help thin the mucus and strengthen the immune system.
8. Vitamins and supplements
A variety of different vitamins and supplements can be used in the prevention of recurrent ear infections as well as can be increased during an infection to aid in healing.
Vitamin C has been shown to be beneficial in thinning mucus in a number of illnesses in our household. We prefer to increase Vitamin C to bowel tolerance to have the greatest effect. We do this by following Dr. Suzanne Humphries’ Vitamin C protocol. Sufficient C and Sodium Ascorbate Powder are the forms of Vitamin C that we keep stocked in our medicine cabinet.
Probiotics are also a great supplement to increase during a time of illness. While the best probiotics can be found from foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented vegetables, and more, there are also high-quality probiotic supplements on the market that have been shown to be beneficial in boosting the immune system.
Vitamin D is an amazing immune booster. An easy way to get Vitamin D is to have the child sit outside in the sunshine. If they don’t feel like being outside, lay them next to a window where the sun is shining through. Or if you prefer, you can supplement them with Vitamin D3 drops.
9. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is antibacterial and antifungal. It has a wide range of uses as a natural remedy.
For an ear infection, mix one part apple cider vinegar with one part warm water. Place a few drops in the affected ear just as explained in the garlic oil section. Another method is to soak a cotton ball in apple cider vinegar and place at the opening of the ear. Repeat either method as often as is needed.
**Disclaimer: do NOT place apple cider vinegar in the ear if you suspect the child has a ruptured eardrum.
10. Hydrogen Peroxide
I have patients who swear by using hydrogen peroxide in the ear for impending ear infections. Hydrogen peroxide is an antimicrobial so I can see how it could be beneficial.
To use hydrogen peroxide in this manner, lay the child on their side with the affected ear up. Place a couple of drops of hydrogen peroxide in the ear and let it bubble. Warn the child that it will be cold and that there will be bubbles, otherwise they may end up fearful of this process in the future. Allow it to sit in the ear until it stops bubbling, then have the child tilt the ear the opposite direction to drain. Wipe away any fluid that comes out. Repeat this process a few times per day.
**Disclaimer: do NOT place hydrogen peroxide in the ear if you suspect the child has a ruptured eardrum.
Gentle lymphatic massage has shown to be beneficial in ear infections. As I stated at the beginning of this article, fluid builds up behind the eardrum that causes pressure and pain. Massage can aid the fluid to drain through the lymphatic vessels of the neck and away from the ear.
Our bodies regenerate and heal when we sleep. Getting adequate rest is one of the most beneficial things a child can do when they are sick. Make them comfortable by choosing one of the natural healing options above, and then encourage them to take a nap.