Ear infections are a common reason for childhood doctor visits. They are also a common reason for unnecessary antibiotics. Despite the fact that most ear infections are caused by viruses or a result of allergies, many doctors prescribe antibiotics rather than spend extra time educating parents on how to comfort their sick child or prevent recurrent infections. Many parents are also concerned that their child might suffer irrepairable harm if not treated appropriately (with antibiotics). Children with recurrent ear infections who have already had several courses of antibiotics are often treated with tympanostomy (tubes in the ears), even though there may be little to no benefit for many of these children after this procedure. So, what exactly can parents do if their child is diagnosed with an ear infection and antibiotics are not recommended?
There are many natural treatments for ear infections and specifically, for pain and inflammation associated with infections. If you suspect your child has an ear infection, you should take him to be seen by an appropriate healthcare professional. Symptoms of an ear infection include:
- muffled hearing or decreased responsiveness to sound
- child pulling on ears or complaining of pain
- increased irritability
- decreased appetite
- accompanying upper respiratory symptoms, such as sneezing, and nasal congestion/discharge
- fluid leaking from the ear is a more concerning symptom that usually means the tympanic membrane (eardrum) has ruptured
A doctor or appropriate healthcare professional can do an examination to see if the eardrum has ruptured or if there are other complications that may require antibiotics or conventional medical treatments. Most of the time; however, the infection will be uncomplicated and safe to treat with natural methods.
Here are some safe, effective natural treatments to try if your child is diagnosed with an ear infection:
- Hot water bottle or warm compress (hot towel) applied 20 minutes to the affected ear. If both ears are affected, apply 20 minutes to each ear.
- Warm (baby bottle temp) olive oil or garlic/mullein drops (herbal ear drops) applied to affected ear (never put any drops in the ears if you suspect the eardrum has ruptured, as this could lead to a more severe infection!)
- Onion earmuff–cut a white or yellow onion in half and steam it for ~5 minutes or place in microwave on high for 15-30 seconds. Wrap in a washcloth and hold close to affected ear (but not close enough to burn); vapors from the onion will help with the inflammation by aiding with the drainage of fluid behind the eardrums and can also help kill the infection
- Diet–recurrent ear infections are almost always related to food sensitivities. Dairy is by far the most common food sensitivity resulting in chronic respiratory congestion and inflammation of the middle ear. Wheat/gluten is a close second to dairy. If you have already eliminated both of these foods from your child’s diet and have not seen any improvement, there may be another cause (another food or even an environmental allergy); traditional allergy testing is not necessarily helpful in determining what foods may be causing issues–a Naturopathic Physician can help you determine the best way to find and eliminate the cause
- Homeopathic remedies–there are a number of homeopathic remedies that can be used to treat the symptoms associated with ear infections. You should consult a Naturopathic Physician for help picking out the most appropriate remedy for your child, or you can choose an over the counter combination formula for earache. A few examples of homeopathic remedies that may be helpful include Belladonna, Chamomila, Pulsatilla, Hepar sulph, Ferrum phos, Silica, and Kali mur.
- Lymphatic drainage with essential oils–dilute eucalyptus essential oil with olive oil or skin cream (1 drop essential oil per tsp carrier oil/cream) and massage along lymph channels from just behind the ear down to the front of the neck. Use light pressure and massage one side at a time. This will encourage lymphatic drainage and the essential oil will also help the Eustachian tube to open and drain the fluid from the middle ear.
- Wet sock treatment–a standby for any upper respiratory ailment in children. Warm your child’s feet by soaking in a hot bath. Take one pair of cotton socks, rinse in cold water and wring out. Put these on your child’s feet. Cover with a pair of wool or fleece socks and leave them on your child for 30-45 minutes, until they have warmed up the socks. You may do this in the evening while your child is in bed. Be sure to keep your child’s body warm during this treatment–it works really well in conjunction with the hot water bottle/compress on the affected ear.
About the Author: Dr. Bowker is a Naturopathic Physician and owner of Snohomish Valley Holistic Medicine. In addition to her clinical practice, Dr. Bowker serves as a Board member for the Washington Association of Naturopathic Physicians. She has also been a guest speaker for community organizations and instructor of several community health classes. For more information, please visit her primary website: www.snovalleyholistic.com